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American Indian burial grounds and other sacred sites could spark changes to redevelopment plans centered at the shuttered Hunters Point Naval Shipyard.
Despite years of planning efforts and community meetings about the sweeping 702-acre redevelopment project, the Planning Department has yet to formally discuss the project with representatives of the Ohlone tribe, which San Francisco recognizes as its first people.
The Ohlone lived with extended families and used tools and canoes to hunt and fish. Their burial grounds, mounds of shells and other artifacts are seen frequently at Bay Area construction sites.
In January, Ohlone descendents held a rally at City Hall to tell San Francisco, in a letter, that they feared the Planning Department “made a decision to deliberately exclude us and disenfranchise our people.”
On Tuesday, the department sent a letter to tribal officials that invited them to share their concerns about the redevelopment project, according to City Planner Mathew Snyder.
The letter complies with requirements contained in a 2005 state law, the Protection of Traditional Tribal Cultural Places, which city officials say does not apply to San Francisco because it’s a charter city.
The Planning Department sent the letter because it was urged to do so by the public, including in comments filed as part of the project’s environmental review process, according to Snyder.
A handful of sites containing Ohlone artifacts were identified by archaeologists within the project boundaries during the past century. Identified and unidentified sites may have been destroyed by construction activity, such as development of the shipyard.
Ohlone Tribal Chairwoman Ann Mari Sayers said San Francisco will be asked to adjust its redevelopment plans to include a building or area where unearthed cultural materials are displayed.
The display would “educate people that they are on Ohlone land,” Sayers said.
“These were people who lived here very successfully for tens of thousands of years,” she said.
Mayor Gavin Newsom’s economic development adviser, Michael Cohen, said The City is open to such a conversation.
“The project already anticipates having cultural historic elements,” Cohen said. “It would be appropriate to celebrate the history of the Muwekma Ohlone.”
Procedures to be followed if Ohlone remains or burial artifacts are discovered during redevelopment:
1. Nearby construction work will halt
2. San Francisco’s coroner will be notified
3. If the remains are found to be American Indian, the California State Native American Heritage Commission will be notified
4. Dialogue with tribal descendants will commence regarding reburial procedures
5. The remains will be ceremonially reburied at the closest possible location
Source: San Francisco Planning Department
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