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An Indian tribe in California reclaimed a part of their Big Sur ancestral lands after 250 years. This is major.

The lands were returned to the Esselen Tribe of Monterey County, which plans to use it to conduct traditional ceremonies and teach the public about their culture.

An Indian tribe in California reclaimed a part of their Big Sur ancestral lands after 250 years. This is major.
Image Source: Tom Little Bear Nason / LinkedIn

The United States federal government has stolen land from Indian tribes from the moment it was constituted. Now, a Native American tribe in the now-state of California has reclaimed a small part of their ancestral lands on Monday. The lands, located on the scenic Big Sur coast, were lost to Spanish colonial settlements almost 250 years ago. However, the Esselen Tribe of Monterey County has finally closed escrow on 1,199 acres (485 hectares) approximately five miles (8 kilometers) inland from the ocean that was part of a $4.5 million deal involving the state and the Western Rivers Conservancy, ABC News reports.



This is the first restoration of any lands to the Esselen Tribe, which lost 90 percent of their thousand-member family to disease and other causes by the early 1800s. Tom Little Bear Nason, the chairman of the tribe, expressed his happiness about the development. He stated, "It is beyond words for us, the highest honor. The land is the most important thing to us. It is our homeland, the creation story of our lives. We are so elated and grateful." Of course, he should not have to be grateful at all—the land rightfully belongs to him and his tribe. The United States federal government should feel lucky that Indian tribes simply want their land back.



The land in question lies on the north side of the Little Sur River and is where endangered steelhead fish spawn live. It is also home to old-growth redwoods, oak woodlands, and meadows. Sue Doroff, president of the conservancy, said of the land, "The property is spectacular, and on top of that it repatriates land to a tribe that has had a really hard go of it over the years." The reclamation of the land was made possible when the family of Axel Adler, a Swedish immigrant who bought it in the 1950s and died in 2004, placed it on sale. The property was named Rancho Aguila. The deal was closed by Portland, Oregon-based Western Rivers Conservancy, which originally negotiated to purchase the property so as to transfer it to the United States Forest Service.



When concerns about the increased use of the land by visitors and the agency's inability to properly take care of the land arose, the conservancy began collaborating with the Esselen Tribe. They received a $4.5 million grant from the California Natural Resources Agency to cover the $4.35 million purchase price as well as pay for land studies. The funds were sourced from a 2018 voter-approved parks and water bond. The bond included $60 million for "competitive grants to acquire Native American natural, cultural, and historic resources in California." To many, this fund sounds like a form of modern-day colonization. Thankfully, the land is now in the right hands. Nason revealed that the tribe plans to build a sweat lodge and traditional village on the land in order to conduct traditional ceremonies and teach the public about their culture. Permanent homes and businesses will not be permitted on the land. "We’re the original stewards of the land. Now we’re returned,” he said. “We are going to conserve it and pass it on to our children and grandchildren and beyond.”

According to Mercury News, Nason also intends for the tribe, which has 214 members, to share the land with other Central Coast tribes like the Ohlone, the Amah Mutsun and the Rumsen people. “Getting this land back gives privacy to do our ceremonies,” he said. “It gives us space and the ability to continue our culture without further interruption. This is forever, and in perpetuity, that we can hold on to our culture and our values.”



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