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Redwood forest in California returned to Native Tribes: 'Our ancestors are still here'

The 523-acre land was donated to Sinkyone Council which consists of 10 federally recognized Northern California tribal nations.

Redwood forest in California returned to Native Tribes: 'Our ancestors are still here'
Photo by Max Forster (@maxforsterphotography), courtesy of Save the Redwoods League

More than five hundred acres of redwood forestland has been returned to Native American tribes whose ancestors were forcibly removed from it generations ago. A conservation group named Save the Redwoods League bought the land formerly known as Andersonia West for $3.55 million before donating it to the InterTribal Sinkyone Wilderness Council. Indigenous people on the land were forcibly removed by European American colonists, reported the Save the Redwoods League, who said the idea was to return their land to them, 'the original stewards of this land.' The 523-acre land was donated to Sinkyone Council which consists of 10 federally recognized Northern California tribal nations. Some of the tribal nations that are a part of the council include Cahto Tribe of Laytonville Rancheria, the Pinoleville Pomo Nation, and the Round Valley Indian Tribes, reported CNN.



The tribal nations that were home to the land in Northern California's Mendocino County have been given the ability to reclaim and rename the land. "Renaming the property Tc'ih-Léh-Dûñ lets people know that it's a sacred place; it's a place for our Native people," said Sinkyone Council board member and tribal citizen Crista Ray. "It lets them know that there was a language and that there was a people who lived there long before now." After the indigenous people were removed, lumber companies started cutting down the trees and making easy money. "By the end of the 1950s, only about 10 percent of the original two-million-acre redwood range remained untouched," said Save the Redwoods League.


Buffie Schmidt, tribal citizen and vice-chairperson of the Sherwood Valley Rancheria of Pomo Indians, said they were overwhelmed to finally reclaim their land. "Today I stand on the shoulders of giants, my ancestors ... to bring them honor and to not let our old ways be forgotten, for our next generation, my children, my grandchildren and all the kids that I'll never get to see," said Schmidt. "Our ancestors are still here, they're still around us. As I listen to the wind, I feel like my ancestors — who I've never even known in my lifetime — are here and happy that we call this place something that they're familiar with: Tc'ih-Léh-Dûñ."



The land was long considered sacred to the spiritual lives of Native tribes who performed ceremonies when harvesting redwoods to build their homes and canoes, the nonprofit conservation organization explained on its website. InterTribal Sinkyone Wilderness Council's president and CEO Sam Hodder said it would work with Save the Redwoods League to protect the forestland and the wildlife on it.


Save the Redwoods League wants to help protect the land from climate change, land development, and burl poaching among other things. "We believe the best way to permanently protect and heal this land is through tribal stewardship," said Hodder. "In this process, we have an opportunity to restore balance in the ecosystem and in the communities connected to it, while also accelerating the pace and scale of conserving California's iconic redwood forests."



Native American leaders have also called for the return of other lands including Mount Rushmore. The Lakota considered the mountain to be sacred and referred to it as Tȟuŋkášila Šákpe or "The Six Grandfathers." The Black Hills region was granted to the Lakota in perpetuity as part of the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868, reported USA Today. However, the agreement was broken by the federal government after gold was found in the region. Miners rushed to the region under an expedition led by General George Custer in 1874 and demanded the US Army's protection. Having already granted the land to the Native American tribe, the US government, using The Indian Appropriations Act of 1876, cut off all rations. The government refused to budge, demanding that Lakota end hostilities and concede Black hills to the federal government. The matter was later taken to court where the US Court of Claims ruled that the federal government's forced takeover of the region violated the fifth amendment. The U.S. Court of Claims found that the Sioux Nation of Indians was entitled to $17.1 million in compensation because of the government's seizure of the Black Hills. The Native American tribe refused compensation because it would legally end their demand for the Black Hills to be returned to them.


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