American Indian Cultural District expanding to include Dolores Park

A former Ramaytush Ohlone village site known today as Dolores Park could soon be included in San Francisco’s American Indian...

A former Ramaytush Ohlone village site known today as Dolores Park could soon be included in San Francisco’s American Indian Cultural District.

The district, established in March, was the first such cultural district created for Native Americans in California and the largest in the country, according to Executive Director Sharaya Souza. When the initial boundaries were approved it was with the understanding that they would expand after The City’s coronavirus emergency response settled down.

At the Rules Committee on Monday, Supervisor Hillary Ronen moved to expand the district to include Dolores Park, north to Duboce Avenue and south to 20th Street.

“There’s a lot of trauma that’s carried in that area,” Souza said. “Before it was a Mission site, it was a large site of Ramaytush Ohlone people.”

Dolores Park was once called Chutchui, one of many Ohlone villages, according to the legislation. It sits a couple of blocks from Mission Dolores, which stands as a reminder of the painful Mission Era that enslaved, killed, and sexually assaulted American Indians as they were forced to convert to Christianity and taken away from their families, language, and cultural traditions beginning in the 18th century.

The Rules Committee also approved rules changes Monday proposed by Supervisor Hillary Ronen earlier this month requiring the Board of Supervisors President to begin by acknowledging the Ramaytush Ohlone Tribe, San Francisco’s first residents. Souza said land acknowledgments — particularly when Indigenous people are asked to read them — risk being performative, but this change has been a long time coming and moves the conversation forward about justice for American Indians today.

“It’s not enough to just acknowledge,” Ronen said at the Monday meeting. “We have to steer resources and make sure that these communities own and control land in this city to make this commitment real. The importance of the cultural districts is bringing resources to communities that are left out and have been pushed out of The City.”

A proposed expansion of the American Indian Cultural District will incorporate Dolores Park. (Courtesy SF Planning)

A proposed expansion of the American Indian Cultural District will incorporate Dolores Park. (Courtesy SF Planning)

San Francisco became a major relocation site as an effort starting in the 1950s to urbanize American Indians and eliminate claims to reservations. Instead, it served as a catalyst for the American Indian and Red Power movements, which partly operated out of the first American Indian Center between Mission and Valencia streets, now included in today’s cultural district.

One year after the center burned down in 1968, activists seeking a cultural space occupied Alcatraz Island — which was originally promised to the Lakota people under one of many broken federal treaties. Though the occupation ended 19 months later, Alcatraz is still considered a sacred place and hosts sunrise gathering ceremonies on Indigenous Peoples’ Day and Thanksgiving Day, which went virtual for the first time this year.

“The whole point was getting space and land,” Souza said. “Here we are back to the original intention of the American Indian [occupation].”

The Native American Health Center and Friendship House, a nonprofit addiction recovery program, are also within district boundaries.

The American Indian Cultural District will commemorate significant sites with a mural project, flag banners marking the boundaries, and a walking tour using QR codes people can scan to learn more about the sites. Since its creation in March, it’s provided and advocated for resources to the community during the pandemic.

“This cultural district is opening up so much for the community,” said April McGill, director of the American Indian Cultural Center, during public comment. “It’s really important to consider the first people here when making any decisions on land use. It’s our time.”

The American Indian Cultural District expansion will be heard again on Dec. 7 in committee due to amendments introduced Monday.

The Rules Committee on Monday also sent legislation forward to the full Board of Supervisors to establish an advisory committee on reparations for Black San Franciscans and strengthen the African American Arts and Cultural District.

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