Berkeley’s Ohlone Park at 50: Crafts, culture and tales of struggle

It was a salute to the citizen activists who founded a Berkeley park in 1969 named in honor of the Native California Indians whose heritage in the Bay Area dates back thousands of years.

On Saturday, dozens of people gathered at Ohlone Park to mark its 50th birthday, celebrate indigenous culture, and hear first-hand accounts of how the open space came to be, including from local historian Charles Wollenberg.

The crowd listened to heartfelt stories from Native Californians, including from the Parker family, whose patriarch, Ralph Parker, is the last full blooded Yosemite.

An Ohlone woman comes to tears at seeing the rendering of a recently deceased family member’s image on the south facing mural at Ohlone Park, June 1, 2019. Photo: Pete Rosos
Ralph Parker, the last full blooded Yosemite, at Ohlone Park, June 1, 2019. Photo: Pete Rosos

A key moment of the event was the rededication of a four-sided mural by artist Jean LaMarr that depicts Ohlone history and its communal life, and which has been an important cultural touchstone for the local Muwekma Ohlone tribe. The Muwekma recalled their ancestors and family members who are depicted on the mural. Funding from a UC Chancellor’s grant and from Berkeley’s Civic Arts Commission will enable LaMarr to realize her vision later this year of an art garden around the mural, with native plants, a grinding rock sculpture and redwood benches that depict swimming salmon.

Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín attended the event, as did Malcolm Margolin, former publisher of Heyday, whose writings and work have been instrumental in highlighting Native Californian Indian culture. In 2016, Margolin founded the California Institute for Community, Art and Nature, one of whose goals is to work with the California Indian community to strengthen ongoing culture and “help non-Indians better appreciate California’s oldest, deepest, and most abiding sense of itself.”

California Indian artists and craftspeople, some whose works are included in museums around the country, demonstrated basket weaving, string-making arts, bead work and other traditional crafts. And Vincent Medina and Louis Trevino, who opened Café Ohlone last year, provided acorn flour brownies and rosehip tea.

Berkeleyside contributing photographer Pete Rosos documented the day.

Basket weaving done by the Parker family at Ohlone Park. Photo: Pete Rosos
Julie Tex demonstrates how to “wax” the handle of her brushes made out of soap plant (Chlorogalum pomeridianum) at Ohlone Park, June 1, 2019. Photo: Pete Rosos
Carson Bates demonstrates how to make string and rope the Ohlone way. Photo: Pete Rosos
Rico Miranda and his child teach a Berkeley family the Ohlone game of Chalik at Ohlone Park. Photo: Pete Rosos
L Frank talks about the history and current use of traditional Ohlone canoes. Photo: Pete Rosos
Acorn flour brownies and rosehip tea courtesy of Ohlone Café. Photo: Pete Rosos
The Parker family poses with former assembly woman Loni Hancock and former Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates at Ohlone Park, June 1, 2019. Photo: Pete Rosos
Three generations of Ohlone (clockwise from the upper left): Lisa Parker, Ursula Jones and Julia Parker. Photo: Pete Rosos
A pedestrian walks her dog past the eastern wall of the Ohlone Mural in Ohlone Park. Photo: Pete Rosos
Members of the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe of the San Francisco Bay Area gather to pose in front of the mural at Ohlone Park. Photo: Pete Rosos
Julia Parker shares her story with the crowd at the 50th anniversary of Ohlone Park, June 1, 2019. Photo: Pete Rosos