“The city of Pacifica acknowledges that we occupy the unceded ancestral homeland of the Ramaytush Ohlone peoples, who are the original inhabitants of the San Francisco Peninsula. We honor the Ramaytush Ohlone peoples for their enduring commitment to Mother Earth. As the indigenous protectors of this land and in accordance with their traditions, the Ramaytush Ohlone have never ceded, lost nor forgotten their responsibilities as caretakers of this place, as well as for all peoples who reside in their traditional territory. We affirm their sovereign rights as First Peoples and wish to pay our respects to the ancestors, elders and relatives of the Ramaytush Ohlone peoples.”

That is the somewhat cumbersome yet entirely insufficient paragraph the mayor or her designate plans to read before every Pacifica City Council meeting in the weeks and months and years to come. Such “land acknowledgements” have cropped up in recent years wherever colonists have displaced native peoples.

If you’ve never heard of the Ramaytush Ohlone, you are missing the building block upon which California was built. The native Ohlone roamed the area for thousands of years until Spanish conquerors and Gold Rush “pioneers” enslaved and killed the native population. The Ohlone died of foreign diseases for which they had no natural defenses. When they fled the missions, they were hunted down.

So… is that it? Are we done now? Can we go back to celebrating Columbus and pretending that European settlers tamed this wild land and its scandalously unreligious peoples? We sure hope not. And you are not alone if you are wondering what good comes from a statement like the one Pacifica plans to make on alternate Mondays.

Imagine a neighborhood bully. He takes your lunch money and then says to you, “I acknowledge that I stepped in front of you on the sidewalk here and demanded your lunch money and that I beat you up a couple of times to convince you that giving it to me was the right thing to do. Nevertheless, I affirm your sovereign rights as a lunch eater and I wish to pay my respect to your ancestors. But, I’m keeping your lunch money.”

That was the analogy that went through my mind as I tried to keep my eyes from rolling out of my head when I first heard about Pacifica’s land acknowledgement. If you really feel your people stole unceded land, shouldn’t you give it back?

Jonathan Cordero helped me understand. He is executive director of the Association of Ramaytush Ohlone, which helped to craft Pacifica’s statement. He agrees that the statement alone is insufficient, but argues that doesn’t make it insignificant. He sees it as a step in the right direction after a centuries-long march toward eradicating any such acknowledgement whatsoever. And he’s hopeful that it’s a sign the city is open to other, perhaps even more meaningful, steps to help all marginalized people in the city.

It should be noted that Pacifica is not alone in making such a statement and it certainly isn’t first. The city of San Francisco made the second Monday in October Indigenous Peoples Day two years ago, specifically calling out the Ramaytush Ohlone as among the area’s first inhabitants. Last week, the city of Albany became the first city in the Bay Area to say it would permanently fly a flag acknowledging the Ohlone. That East Bay city said it would also consider making payments or returning land to the Confederated Villages of Lisjan/Ohlone in the form of a land trust.

After generations of denial, we are living in a time of awakening. People of all colors, sexual orientations and genders have discovered their voice. Pacifica’s acknowledgement of past atrocities is not the end. It’s merely a preamble to the story of how we got here.

— Clay Lambert

Clay Lambert is the editorial director for Coastside News Group. After years working at regional daily newspapers, he began as editor of the Half Moon Bay Review in 2004.

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