SOURCE: https://sogoreate-landtrust.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/Ya-Nuunukne-Fall-2021.pdf WITH THE PERMISSION OF: Sogorea Te ‘Land Trust. TRANSLATED INTO SPANISH BY AWASQA
Long before there was ever any paper that said it belonged to someone, the land was here. Rammay is the ancestral land of the tribe some times called Ohlone. This is the story of the land and its Rematriation.
Tucked away off from the hustle and bustle of San Pablo and Peralta, West Oakland or Rammay, meaning “west” in the Chochenyo language, is home to roughly 21,000 Oakland residents. Rammay always has been a community teeming with culture and resilience, pushing back and resisting against the multiple waves of colonization and forms of oppression.
It was first stolen and claimed as property under the Peralta Land Grant in 1820. Someone who never set foot on the land decided it was their sand then gave it to settlers. Then it started being sold in parcels, passing through many hands. Now we are here today, the two houses hugging the garden on either side being built around the late 1990s and early 2000s. We don’t know much about who was here through all the years in between, but one reason this garden is still here is because of one of its caretakers, Inez Jones.
Inez Jones, a well-known Jazz singer, lived here back when West Oakland was a thriving cultural center and 7th street was lined with famous jazz clubs. Inez married Paul Jones, a fellow Black Jazz musician, and trumpeter. Together they made their home on Linden street in West Oakland and she was known for keeping a beautiful garden. From the Harlem of the West, the “Boogie Baroness” was the resident singer at Harem Club and blessed many local clubs with her presence, during the A1950s.
Around this time, the Ohlone people in the Bay Area were mostly still in hiding. Other Native people were being relocated from reservations to urban areas through Termination and Relocation policies, a continuation of the colonial government’s oppression and forced assimilation. Our elders say many relocated intertribal Native American families were also setting up their homes in West Oakland through this time.
As Oakland entered the 1960’s, the city eminent domain destroyed more than 5,000 homes in West Oakland to create the freeway and BART systems, drastically altering the community.
Through the 70s and 80s, the area was impacted by economic decline. Inez Jones passed away in 1995 at 82 years old and public records show the house was foreclosed around the same time.
Stories we collected say the houses and the garden in between were abandoned, the neighborhood in “blight.” Over the years while the garden’s fruit trees continued to grow, various tenants squatted the buildings and one house was partially destroyed in a fire before being condemned, fenced off, and left to rest.
Throughout the 1990’s the Internet and Silicone Valley exploded a new wave of settlers and development throughout the greater BayArea. As land was snatched up by investors and buildings razed, remnants of Ohlone cultural, ancestral, and sacred grounds were increasingly disrupted, upturned, and destroyed.
A group Ohlone and intertribal Indigenous people began organizing around trying to save important cultural sites under the name Indian People Organizing for Change (IPOC). The price of land and housing skyrocketed and Oakland continued to transform.
Around this time, some community gardeners who remembered Inez’s garden saw the abandoned site and wanted save it. Collaborating with school garden programs, and Northern California Land Trust, they raised the money to buy the house and land in 2006. The homes on either side of the garden became permanently affordable and the garden was designated as a community space named the Paula and Inez Jones Garden. For many years Oakl and Butterfly and Urban Gardens (OBUGS) stewarded the site with youth groups before their organization sunsetted. In the 4 transition, the garden was forgotten and again went into rest.
It was years and years later, a former volunteer from our friends at Planting Justice who had learned about Sogorea Te’ was working at a large non-profit when they ran across the forgotten lease to the garden site. They suggested the site be turned over to Sogorea Te and the original people whose ancestral land we are on. They contacted the Northern California Land Trust (NCLT), and the process of return started.
Land Trusts hold land and share it under alternative ownership models and long terms leases. NCLT “owned” the garden and gave stewardship rights to Sogorea Te through a 99-year lease. The garden was officially rematriated and returned to Indigenous hands in December 2018. It was named Rammay, which means the West in Chochenyo, by Deja Gould, the language carrier for the Villages Lisjan tribe.
While the world navigates challenges and changes, Sogorea Te’ continues to build new kinds of urban Indigenous access to land. While the garden is not yet open for visitors, We looking forward to seeing you there some future day.