UC Police Remove Ohlone Elder, Activists from Gill Tract


  • STEVE RHODES/FLICKR (CC) - The Gill Tract in Albany
Environmentalists, students, and indigenous activists continue to spar with the University of California over the future of a swath of land in Albany known as the Gill Tract. The most recent scuffle involves a group claiming indigenous rights to the land, and objecting to UC's plans to allow a developer to build housing and a commercial shopping strip on five acres.

Early yesterday morning, UC police officers removed Hank Herrera and several other activists from the Gill Tract while Herrera was conducting a ceremony. Herrera is of Ohlone descent. The Ohlone people have lived in California for thousands of years. A video of the incident was made available by the Indigenous Land Action Committee, a group which described itself in a previous press release as "Ohlone and other native people who envision reclaiming land stolen from them, honoring the land, honoring the ancestors who stewarded this land for millennia[.]"

According to a press release distributed by Occupy the Farm activists, Herrera had attended an Occupy the Farm action in 2013 at the Gill Tract and was told by a UC police officer that he was "trespassing" and needed to leave the area.

"I kept turning over this thought in my head, ‘How can I be trespassing on land that my ancestors lived on thousands of years?'" Herrera said.

This led Herrera and Occupy the Farm activists to carry out their most recent protest on the Gill Tract. They entered the site on Sunday and remained there until being removed yesterday by the UC police. 

"The land is slated for development by UC Berkeley into unaffordable housing and a corporate grocery store," said Luna Fassett, a UC Berkeley student and member of Occupy the Farm who was part of the recent protest.

UC Spokesman Dan Mogulof said he was unaware of any request by any indigenous group since 1945 to access UC-owned land around the Gill Tract to conduct a ceremony. Mogulof said the land is owned by the Regents of the University of California, that it is not public land, and that UC undertook a lengthy and open planning process that resulted in the current development proposal.

"They were indeed removed from two lots adjacent to the Gill Tract," said Mogulof about the UC police action early yesterday morning. "I believe their occupation had started a couple nights ago and they were immediately warned they were trespassing and told if they didn’t leave we’d need to enforce the law."

"We always prefer to have these end on a voluntary basis," Mogulof said about the protest.