On Sunday, October 11, a group of indigenous people held a sacred ceremony and observance on the historic Gill Tract Farm to honor the land and the ancestors who lived on the land for over 10,000 years.
The gathering was convened by the Indigenous Land Access Committee (ILAC)—a group of Ohlone and other native people who envision reclaiming land stolen from them, honoring the land, honoring the ancestors who stewarded this land for millennia, and restoring spiritual and cultural lifeways in solidarity with indigenous people on every continent harmed by colonization.
For almost 20 years, the community around the historic Gill Tract Farm has struggled to preserve this land for a community center for sustainable agriculture. This section of the Gill Tract Farm where the ceremony is taking place is under imminent threat of being paved over for a shopping center with a Sprouts supermarket. The developer for the project filed for a building permit with the City of Albany on September 24th.
But long before these 20 years of struggle for the use of the Gill Tract as a community farm, which ILAC supports, the site was occupied by colonizers who displaced the native Ohlone people. “Through this ceremony,” says ILAC member Hank Herrera, “we are calling for the recognition of this land as Ohlone territory, and its preservation as a space for restoring indigenous cultures and practices, including the reclamation of lifeways and foodways on the land that our ancestors called home.”
The inspiration for the ceremony was sparked by the interaction Herrera had with a UC Police Officer when he visited the second Occupy the Farm action on the Gill Tract in 2013. Hank Herrera, who is half-Ohlone, recalled that a UC Police Officer told him “you’re trespassing on University of California Land.” “On my way home,” says Herrera, “I kept turning over this thought in my head, ‘how can I be trespassing on land that my ancestors lived on thousands of years?’”
The gathering began when a group led by ILAC members and followed by supporters walked onto the South Side of Gill Tract, and cleared a circular space around a fire pit they built in the center. The ceremony started with prayers for land and singing to honor the ancestors. The ceremonial leaders planned to light a sacred sacred fire, which would burn for the whole ceremony. Although the Albany Fire Department approved the fire pit as safe, UC police threatened to shut down the whole ceremony and force everyone off the land if a fire was lit.
Supporters also set up a welcome table, educational table and food service tables along the San Pablo Ave edge of the Gill Tract. Supporter Susan Park, a longtime Bay Area resident, expressed, “We are here in solidarity with Indigenous folks who are fighting to gain back sovereignty over their ancestral land. Part of our support is to provide meals and other necessities for the comfort of ILAC members to reclaim this space, and to provide education on Indigenous rights, anti-racism and decolonization to the public.”
The ceremony which started Sunday afternoon continued with drumming into the night and will continue all-day Monday, which is Indigenous People’s Day, and will continue indefinitely until Native People’s demands have been met.
**Occupy the Farm is in full support of ILAC’s ceremonial reclamation of GIll Tract. We encourage you to come down this week to show your support as well.**