The Berkeley tree-sitters are all back on the ground and the trees themselves have been felled, but for members of the Bay Area indigenous community, the fight is not over yet.
The final four tree-sitters came down peacefully from their perches on Tuesday, Sept. 9, following about four hours of negotiations with UC Berkeley police chief Victoria Harrison, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. The trees were cut down shortly after the sitters’ descent, but Native American locals are continuing their quest to preserve the ground in which, they say, 18 of their ancestors are buried.
Seniors Morning Star Gali and Tracy Peerson, both members of Mills’ Native American Student Alliance (NASA), attended a religious ceremony at the grove on September 12. According to Gali, she and a protest spokesperson negotiated with the UC Berkeley Police chief the previous week, and were initially told that they could hold the ceremony once the tree sitters came down.
After their first request was ignored, Gali and the spokesman continued to negotiate until an agreement was made, although she said the police then used that agreement as leverage to attempt to force the tree sitters out of their perches. She found it insulting that her people needed police permission to pray on their own sacred burial ground.
At the ceremony that Friday, only 12 people were allowed inside the fences to lay prayers near the stump of the grandmother tree. Gali was let in, but Peerson said she was not, and was forced to watch the ceremony from outside with many others, including a tree sitter and the protest spokesperson, who were told they could not enter because they had previously disrespected the police.
“I asked the officers, how would they feel if that was their grandmother’s grave being dug up?” Gali said. “How would they react if 200-plus years of their family’s history was discarded, and then they had no access to it?”
She added, “If it was a church being desecrated and a fence put around it so no one could go in, it would be a very different situation, wouldn’t it?”
At a prayer gathering on the Sunday before the ceremony, Gali said she was witness and victim to acts of police brutality and violence. She recalls being assaulted by officers as she attempted to lay down her tobacco prayers near the fence surrounding the grove, saying that at one point they threatened to take her two-month-old baby from her.
The next day, she said, she was sitting in a chair near the fence, when officers threatened to call child protective services to come take her two children.
“The female officers. yelled, ‘Why don’t you give him to someone who f–ing cares!'” Gali said. “I was appalled by the brutal force and violence demonstrated by the officers who claim they live by the duty to protect and serve.”
“The [UC Berkeley] chief of police made empty gestures, considering her officers’ conduct this week, by telling us to be careful as we walked along the barricade near the street,” Peerson said.
“I equate the experience with being able to stand outside of a church, but not go inside to hear the sermon,” she said.
Gali found a green acorn near the base of the grandmother tree stump; she gave the acorn to one of the tree sitters, whom she hopes will plant it. Peerson interpreted the find as a sign of renewal.
“[That was] her resistance to being treated so brutally: she will live again,” Peerson said.
Gali said that efforts are being made to have the ancestral remains of the grove repatriated. She felt that the way UC Berkeley police and other officials handled the situation is one of many examples of the college’s disrespect for the Native community.
“They want to study us but not respect us as living people,” she said.