The Presidio Brat

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Finding Balance: Indian history on the Presidio

At a recent Trust-sponsored discussion, someone pointed out that our language about the history of the Bay Area can be completely offensive to Indians. The speaker was talking about literature at the Anza Trail, but after considering his comments, I stumbled on a local example:

It is true that the Spaniards founded the original Presidio on that site, but it certainly overlooks the 5,000 years before that when Indians lived here, "founding" this place. You can't very well live somewhere for 5,000 years and not consider it "settled," can you?

And this wouldn't be true either:

I guess "building" excludes any tule huts or sweat lodges erected by the Ohlone. They would certainly qualify as the oldest ones in town. Like the original Commandante's Quarters, they are no longer standing. They have been built over by new structures. They were pretty minimalist to begin with. When you live so lightly on the land, you leave only the faintest traces of evidence behind. Good for reducing your carbon footprint, not so good for cultural preservation.

The Presidio as a distinct entity may have been created by Europeans, but Indians lived here, and it is well within the bounds of honesty and fairness - I would even argue, necessity - to focus on Ohlone culture anytime we discuss the general history of the place.

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