Who Owns the Park?

When the University comes with its land title we will tell them: “Your land title is covered with blood. We won’t touch it.”

Who Owns the Park? Poster featuring an indigenous person brandishing a gun, overlaid with text

Someday a petty official will appear with a piece of paper, called a land title, which states that the University of California owns the land of People’s Park. Where did that piece of paper come from? What is it worth?

A long time ago the Costanoan Indians lived in the area now called Berkeley. They had no concept of land ownership. They believed that the land was under the care and guardianship of those who used it and lived on it.

Catholic missionaries took the land away from the Indians. No agreements were made. No papers were signed. They ripped it off in the name of God.

The Mexican Government took the land away from the Church. The Mexican Government had guns and an army. God’s word was not as strong.

The Mexican Government wanted to pretend that it was not the army that guaranteed them the land. They drew up some papers which said they legally owned it. No Indians signed those papers.

The Americans were not fooled by the papers. They had a stronger army than the Mexicans. They beat them in a war and took the land. Then they wrote some papers of their own and forced the Mexicans to sign them.

The American Government sold the land to some white settlers. The Government gave the settlers a piece of paper called a land title in exchange for some money. All this time there were still some Indians around who claimed the land. The American army killed most of them.

The piece of paper saying who owned the land was passed around rich white men. Sometimes the white men were interested in taking care of the land. Usually they were just interested in making money. Finally some very rich men, who run the University of California, bought the land.

Immediately these men destroyed the houses that had been built on the land. The land went the way of so much other land in America - it became a parking lot.

We are building a park on the land. We will take care of it and guard it, in the spirit of the Costanoan Indians. When the University comes with its land title we will tell them: “Your land title is covered with blood. We won’t touch it. Your people ripped off the land from the Indians a long time ago. If you want it back now, you will have to fight for it again.”

About this Poster

This poster is believed to be created by then-graduate student Frank Bardacke in 1969.

The term “Costanoan” was used by the Spanish to refer to the Ohlone people and remained used in media for many decades. It is not considered an accurate descriptor. Pictured behind the text is an image which was widely circulated at the time, of Geronimo (Bedonkohe band of Ndendahe Apache people) holding a gun.