Letters for November 7, 2007

Readers sound off about East Bay crime, reporters' own free speech rights, and more on Native-American sites in the East Bay

“Same Bat Channel,” Apprehension, 10/3

They Learned it at School

What in the heck is going on at Berkeley High if young thugs walk around carrying baseball bats? Is beating and robbing a Berkeley sport? Ipod robberies are common in Berkeley and on a recent national TV program, we saw Berkeley High students steal an Ipod off the dash of a car in the front of Berkeley High. The TV program followed the student to his home in Hercules of all places. We learned that the same Berkeley High student then had his stolen Ipod stolen from his Berkeley High locker: Poetic Justice. I believe that Berkeley High administrators and parents who look the other way at out of district kids attending Berkeley High are sending a message to kids that it is okay to lie to get what you want. Too many of the kids think it is also okay to beat and rob to get what they want.

Robin Wright, Berkeley

“New OUSD Security Policy,” Water Cooler, 10/3

Just Another Disconnect

Thank you for the article on the fingerprint requirement for volunteers in Oakland schools. Our principal at Crocker Highlands was one who elected to err on the side of caution and require all volunteers to be fingerprinted if they are engaged in unsupervised activities with students. This ranges from chaperoning fourth and fifth grade overnight trips, working with a student or students in small groups outside the classroom but on the school site — in the hallway or in the library — and driving on “day” field trips (among other activities). While a number of downtown suits have said that the district has not required “day” field trip drivers to be fingerprinted, I am told it is left to the discretion of the school’s principal to decide to require it or not. My daughter’s fifth grade overnight is from October 17-19. At this point I do not know whether I can pick up my child and several classmates in Occidental and drive them back to Oakland on Friday without being fingerprinted first. This is my eighth year at Crocker Highlands. I served as PTA President for two years. I have volunteered in many different capacities at Crocker Highlands. I have never seen anything that would warrant such a blanket policy especially when one considers the cost and the lack of procedures to safeguard confidential information. Just another example of the disconnect between the classroom and Second Avenue.

Judy Ganley, Oakland

Burning Brightly

Initially I thought that what I saw was a short term aberration. Now I am convinced that you believe the south arm of the bay is now landfill below the Oakland border. Your title, East Bay Express, does not express your coverage. I suggest you retitle the rag North Alameda Country Declare. I do note that some of the SF based rags to cover the south country in several ways. Their vision seems to be broader based. Otherwise your rag makes just as good fireplace goods as the others.

Robert Wister, Hayward

“A Misdirected Missive,” Full Disclosure, 10/10

Speech vs. Action

As a journalist who has been politically active over the years, I generally support the right of reporters to express themselves as they choose in their personal lives, so long as they don’t cloud the issue by writing a story on a matter which they have already taken an advocative stance. So, I have no problem with the Merc‘s tech writer working openly for Oakland’s do-nothing mayor, Ron Dellums, to step down.

 But those who criticize the Chronicle for firing Henry Norr appear often misinformed as to why Editor Phil Bronstein severed Norr from the paper. Yes, Norr was active in the anti-war movement. No problem there. But it was also well known that Norr was a member of the pro-Palestinian International Solidarity Movement, an organization London’s Telegraph newspaper termed “the ‘peace group’ that embraces violence.”

 The ISM, while calling themselves non-violent, have openly justified the most vicious Palestinian acts of violence. Indeed, as was reported in Mother Jones (September, 2003), the ISM harbored two terrorists who were participants in a deadly suicide bombing in Tel Aviv a few days after, as the British Guardian said, posing in Gaza as ISM “peace advocates.” Moreover, about a month prior to this act of murder, the Israeli army apprehended Islamic Jihad suicide planner Shadi Sukiya while he was taking refuge in ISM’s Jenin office.

So Norr was more than simply a political advocate. When the Chronicle learned he was a member of an organization which aided and abetted terrorism, the paper realized it would be anything but ethical to keep Norr on the publication’s staff. In sum, while a reporter should have a reasonable right to political expression, participation as member of a pro-terrorist organization is appropriate grounds for termination.

Dan Spitzer, Berkeley

Half a Force

In your article about the efforts of Ms. Ackerman (and other Oakland residents) to get Mayor Dellums to step down, you claim that “a majority of Oakland’s voters don’t believe putting more cops on the street is the best solution.”

In fact, a great number of Oakand residents have come to agree with activists like the outspoken Charlie Pine that Oakland has “half a police force.” Statistics show that Oakland has a proportionally small police force, crime rates bear out the lack of patrol, and any Oakland resident not lucky enough to live in Rockridge or Montclair or Glenview who has to call the police frequently knows that getting the police out for anything other than a crime in progress is a New York fantasy.

So, East Bay Express, I strongly suggest that you talk to people outside your immediate circle to find out how many people do indeed support a police force that is properly sized.

Mercedes Corbell, Oakland

Restore the Passion

If a single woman and a new homeowner can’t express outrage about crime in her neighborhood without jeopardizing her livelihood, who can? To suggest that Elise Ackerman, who covers Silicon Valley for the Mercury News, has a conflict of interest because her stories sometimes appear in the Tribune now is absurd. Might as well accuse me of having raised a potential conflict of interest when a story of mine, back when I was with the Merc, went out on the Knight wire. Your point about Ron Dellums vs. Jerry Brown is more relevant, but only a little: Brown at least tried, while Dellums was elected on a promise to restore business as usual. The really admirable thing about Ackerman’s outburst is its passion — an element I suspect could profitably be restored to newspapers.

David Beck, St. Petersburg, FL

“Christian Scott, Anthem; Hearsay,” Music, 10/10

All His Props

Are you kidding me? “What he lacks in technique?” Have you heard this guy, starting at age 16, playing on Donald Harrison, Jr.’s releases? I don’t think he finished Berklee College of Music in half the normal time with a double degree without technique. I suggest you check out a sample of his “technique” on this url: YouTube.com/watch?v=ofAC3SE5zTI. Also, in order to make a trumpet, or flugle horn, or soprano trombone, or cornet sound like nothing anyone has ever heard before, is technical. Give the kid ALL of his props, not some of them.

Deinira Daniels, Washington, D.C.

“The Indian Hunter,” Feature, 10/3

A Fantasy About Rights

The topics of this story do not lend themselves to speedy talking points. Even what might be considered a lengthy article for any paper is still small in terms of fleshing out all the relevant points of such a huge and complex issue. What then happens what usually occurs in our “in a rush” society is that the opposing views are denied, denigrated and dismissed. That is what the article’s subject did in his book and that is the threat now presented by the publishing of this newspaper article about such a book.

The article has threaded throughout it the legal issues of “rights,” such as “First Amendment rights of free press” and other laws. However, what was glaringly missing from the article and the thought processes of the article’s subject was the rights of others and the near vacuum of discussion on the morality of what he is doing. Instead, he engages in and perpetuates the “invaders’ mentality” of acquisition of things that are not his to acquire. That thinking isn’t about native spirituality or culture, it is about native objects and who “owns” them. Will those “new owners” accept the responsibility that comes along with that? As this article shows, the answer is obviously not.

It is such a simple-minded tactic to cloak one’s self with the Constitution about rights and ignore the ethics of doing the right thing. The writers of the Constitution (“borrowing” liberally from the native Iroquois Nation and their ethically and spiritually based set of laws) included rights guarantees because they were threatened. What wasn’t written into the Constitution, because there was a common agreement to the concepts, were the responsibilities and obligations of the individual to that society that was guaranteeing them their “rights.” We haven’t forgotten about being a “free” society. What we have done is succumbed to the moral lapses that have occurred since this “freedom-loving” American society began with the genocide against Indigenous people. ‘I should be able to do whatever I want,” is how it really translates in the modern vernacular. At least until someone stops it. In this case, as the article pointed out, the “laws” can’t stop it. Since the book’s author is self righteously determined to save the native sites even when the natives point out how his actions will lead more quickly to their demise, he trots out the old bon-bons of “freedoms” that he was simplistically taught about in school. The same school that obviously taught him that all the natives were dead, so he would be “free” to do what he wants with their heritage.

It is even easier for the simple-minded to cloak themselves with the “new age” fantasy that one can stand on an ancient village site (or, it seems, stick one’s arm into and vandalize a bedrock mortar) and somehow feel bathed in “native spirituality” — and yet be devoid of the moral and ethical underpinnings of every California native society’s spirituality that was known to exist. This modern “civilization” is a spiritual desert compared to our ancient civilizations that lived in balance with the world around them. They were certainly far more advanced spiritually then the modern people that continue the cultural genocide, as this man does every time he engages in his self-serving “daylighting” that has no basis in science, knowledge, culture or ethics as a valid action.

Fortunately, in these so-called modern times, native people still do things in “the right way” (it’s not about “rights”): we limit our reaction to his actions to describing them as “egregious” and the like. In the ancient times that he fantasizes he has somehow connected to through vandalism, he would have been banished for his unrepentant transactions against the community, or poisoned. But in our present day “civilization,” we can only watch and hope that history doesn’t repeat itself, now that EBE (exercising their First Amendment “rights”) has informed perhaps hundreds of thousands of people about this book, instead of just the few hundred that previously heard of this lunatic. We hope and pray for a better outcome, but history tells us clearly that in this “modern society” that “might (the law) makes right (do as I please until stopped).” So who will stop the inevitable consequences? This “daylighter?” That is the truth that is right in front of this cultural heathen’s face but he can’t see it because he has his arm — and his mind and heart — buried in the mud of our ancient and fragile culture.

Gregg Castro, Salinan/Ohlone descendent, San Jose

A Colonial Act

Re the objectifyingly titled “Indian Hunter,” about which I am commenting as a cultural anthropologist, not as a representative of any agency or institution: Although I am described in this article rather paternalistically as a “passionate defender of Native-American culture,” as a non-Indian it is not my place to defend someone else’s “culture” (there are actually hundreds of American Indian cultures). It is my place to support the efforts of local native peoples (there were some 57 distinct Ohlone tribes) to preserve and protect ancestral cultural sites, and, to this end, in the past year I have organized and co-chaired two panels, one at the California Indian Conference, the other at the Society for California Archaeology (SCA) annual meeting, to discuss ways to use and strengthen existing law in order to do just that. Panelists included representatives of the California Native American Heritage Commission, the State Historic Preservation Office, a Tribal Historic Preservation Officer, the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research, the SCA, and several agencies and institutions that are grappling with these issues. The content of these panels will be published next year in the SCA proceedings for those who wish to access them.

Contrary to the article, none of the panelists intimated that anyone’s rights to free speech, nor freedom of the press, be abridged in order to protect cultural resources, nor was this book the focus of the panels. With freedom of speech and press comes responsibility, however, and by choosing to publicize one non-Indian’s efforts to reveal the locations of isolated, unprotected cultural sites in the Bay Area, rather than focusing on the wider range of cultural protection issues per se, the Express has chosen to make the few remaining undisturbed cultural sites in the Bay Area even more vulnerable to vandalism and destruction.

By describing me as “leading the charge against Benney’s book,” the reporter has ascribed both of us with too much power, and, in so doing, has framed the issues in an oversimplified context of pro and con, i.e. of controversy. This deflects attention from the larger, more holistic and complex issues of cultural resources protection. The author isn’t the first non-Indian to choose to reveal the location of cultural sites to the broader world, although he is the first to apply GPS technology to this end. The tragedy is that whenever such revelation has occurred, the targeted sites have always been vandalized. It is a further tragedy that the author is unconcerned that local Ohlone and Bay Miwok, the very people he claims to be appreciating, have asked him to cease revealing this information. The author is clearly more inspired by theoretical Indians of his own construction who are no longer alive, than living, whole human beings who can’t be so easily romanticized and objectified.

California Indian societies were able to exist for thousands of years in the same place without destroying that place because they adhered to complex philosophical and religious systems that emphasized restraint and respect in one’s day-to-day interactions with others and the landscape. They recognized that there were some places that were so inherently powerful (in a spiritual sense) that it was improper to visit these places unless you were a specially initiated religious leader. Contrary to the author’s lack of restraint, and his view that the sites he targets “are way too important to be ignored,” from a native perspective they are so important they should be ignored.

For the author to claim ownership over another people’s ancestors and ancestral sites is a colonial act. For the reporter to describe bayshore village sites as “refuse and burial heaps” robs the people who lived there of their humanity. For a high school teacher to focus on idealized perceptions of people who are no longer alive, ignores the history those people lived through, and devalues the descendants who are still here.

Every day hundreds of thousands of people in the Bay Area drive and walk across Ohlone and Bay Miwok cultural sites that have been destroyed to make way for roadways, sidewalks, restaurants, shopping malls and other developments. It seems to me that it would be far more productive to make the general populace more aware of these locales, than to target the few, remaining intact cultural sites on public lands that won’t be developed. The Ohlone and Bay Miwok are urban and suburban neighbors, not the sum total of the objects their ancestors once made. Contemporary Ohlone and Bay Miwok deserve to have their remaining ancestral sites respected by being left alone.

In this vein, I do not agree with the reporter that the village site at Coyote Hills Regional Park is an exemplar of how all cultural sites on public lands should be treated. This site is near and within view of the park’s Visitor Center, and lends itself to fencing and protection. That isn’t true of other cultural sites on public lands.

Today, California has the largest population of American Indians of any state in the United States. While they may be invisible to most non-Indians because they live as the modern Americans that they are, or discounted because they don’t fit a stereotype, they are actively keeping their cultures alive, and many very generously share aspects of their cultures with others. It is for this reason that I was disappointed that the photograph of Ruth Orta showing an old-style cattail house to a group of school children at Coyote Hills failed to mention that she is Jalquin/Saclan (Ohlone/Bay Miwok tribes), and that Ruth objects to what the author of this book has done.

I hope that some day the Express will publish at least one article that highlights the ongoing cultural involvements of contemporary Ohlone/Bay Miwok, as well as the broad range of issues that concern them. Those wishing to know more about American Indian events in the Bay Area that are open to the public will find them listed on the Bay Area Indian Calendar, http://groups.msn.com/BayAreaIndianCalendar. To learn more about issues of concern to contemporary California Indians, see http://www.calindian.org and http://ceres.ca.gov/nahc. There are also several websites hosted by local tribal organizations.

Beverly R. Ortiz, Walnut Creek

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Please provide your full name, address, and daytime phone number, although we’ll only print your name, city, and affiliation. Send letters to [email protected]m or Letters, East Bay Express, 1335 Stanford Ave., Emeryville, CA 94608. Letters are edited for length and clarity.

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