Last Sunday, students and activists gathered underneath a sukkah, a hut lined with palm leaves, to hear Native American and Jewish activists speak on the importance of respecting sacred land.
The hut-like structure that event “Opening The Doors: Living On Ohlone Land” was hosted in, represents the sukkot (plural of sukkah) that Jewish people lived in for 40 years following the exodus of Egypt. Today, the sukkah represents the openness and the transient nature of life known by these earlier Jewish people. The holiday, which is celebrated for 8 days, is observed in late September or early October.
Welcoming people from every walk of life is an important aspect of the Sukkot holiday, as it embodies a community meant for everyone. Therefore, the pinnacle of the celebration included a lecture from Native American and local activist Corrina Gould, who discussed the “invisibility” that her and her people face from those of us who currently occupy land that used to belong to her tribe: the Ohlone.
Ariel Luckey, a performing artist and activist, began advocating for Ohlone rights after learning that his family’s land — granted to them by the government during the Homestead Act — was stolen from Native Americans, according to an interview between Luckey and Alix Wall of the Jewish News of California. The Homestead Act, enacted in 1862, granted 160 acres of land to Europeans who were willing to colonize America. His family’s Jewish tribes were traced back to a village in Russia, Lubca.
Luckey realized the importance of representing sacred land, preserving community and remembering history after a trip to his family’s village. He anticipated seeing the cemetery where his family members who were killed in the Holocaust were buried, only to discover that the site was demolished.
Like the Jewish cemetery that Luckey visited, the Ohlone people’s burial sites — or shellmounds — have been disrespected following the wave of settling Europeans.
“In history, they don’t really recognize the land that certain tribes had before we came here,” said Arjun Patel, a junior who attended the event. “It’s a concerning issue that needs to be raised.”
Prior to European invasion, the Bay Area was home to native Ohlone people for over a millennia. The 2800 year old Ohlone shellmound in Emeryville, older than the pyramids of Giza, were repeatedly disturbed during the 20th century. The site was used as industrial waste in the early 1900s, which resulted in significant heavy-metal contamination that had to be removed, along with the sacred bodies of the Ohlone ancestors in order to represerve the ancient site.
Today, Gould is at the forefront of preventing more destruction alongside Luckey and other activists to halt the development of a five-storey housing and shopping development set to be built on her sacred land.
“[We have the] ability to change wrongs, teach others the truth and stand as allies and accomplices with the Ohlone,” said Gould.
The Sukkot will be hosting four additional social justice events until this upcoming Wednesday.
Featured Photo: A sukkah — a structure used for celebration during the Jewish Sukkot holiday — stood on Welsh Field. Miles Herman/FOGHORN