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San Francisco to create American Indian Cultural District

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“There are few communities in the country that have experienced displacement as violently and as profoundly as American Indian people”

On the eve of the 50th anniversary of the occupation of Alcatraz Island, San Francisco Supervisor Hilary Ronen will introduce legislation today to form a Native American Cultural District.

“Cultural Districts are one of the most important tools we as a city have to proactively strengthen the cultural identities of neighborhoods and communities that face the pressures of gentrification and displacement,” said Supervisor Ronen in a written statement. “There are few communities in the country that have experienced displacement as violently and as profoundly as American Indian people.”

The district will span part of the Mission District, from Sanchez to Folsom and include areas between 14th and 17th Streets.

The area was selected due to its connection to American Indian historical sites and programs like the Native American Health Center, the Friendship House healing and recovery center, the education program at Sanchez Elementary School, and the International Indian Treaty Council.

Even Mission Dolores is built over a hallowed spot. According the San Francisco Examiner, “the area now known as Mission Dolores was once the site of an Ohlone Village and burial ground where numerous California Native Americans are buried.”

Long before bearing its modern name, San Francisco was home to indigenous people. In fact, somewhere around 40 different tribes of indigenous people lived between Big Sur and the Bay Area. According to Tommy Alexander’s 2014 article in the Bold Italic, “The local tribelets went by various names and spoke dozens of unique languages, but today we group them together as ‘Ohlone’ because this name rings most true for many of the surviving descendants.”

Most of the Ohlone were later enslaved and killed by California missionaries. Today, according to 2018 Census estimates, Native Americans make up only 0.3 percent of the city’s population.

If approved by the Historic Preservation Commission and the Board of Supervisors, Ronen’s legislation would create the city’s ninth cultural district. So far, the list includes the African American Arts and Culture District in Bayview-Hunters Point, Calle 24 Latino Cultural District in the Mission, SoMa’s Leather and LGBTQ District, Japantown, the Filipino Cultural District in SoMa, the Castro LGBTQ Cultural District, and Compton’s Transgender Cultural District in the Tenderloin.