Two stories on the return of land to native tribes.
At Long Last, Smallest Native Californian Tribe Has Land To Call Their Own
Andy Corbley, Good News Network, Dec. 22, 2019
Although the history of Native American indigenous peoples have unquestionably been filled with hardship, the Esselen Tribe in California—maybe the smallest native tribe in the country—has perhaps struggled the most. But now, thanks to a historic deal, it has gotten its land back.
Forcibly converted to Christianity by Spanish missionaries, pulled into missions for tutoring, and exploited for forced labor, the number of remaining descendants from their tribe located in Big Sur is so small that in 2010, the Bureau of Indian Affairs denied their request to be recognized as a tribe and given tribal status.
Recently, however, California authorities managed to raise $37 million for 21 different cultural and city projects, including a $4.5 million grant to buy a large tract of ancestral Esselen land as part of the Esselen Tribal Lands Conservation Project.
The 1,199-acre ranch, once owned by a Swedish man named Alex Adler, runs along the Little Sur Coast near the Central California shore where the Santa Lucia Mountains rise above the Pacific Ocean.
Tracts of old-growth oak and redwoods, grasslands, and chaparral cover the area where the Spanish missionaries first encountered the Esselen during their travels north through California. Thanks to the grant, the Esselen are no longer landless; the forests and fields where their ancestors lived are theirs once more to continue the traditions of the past.
“This is one of the first times a tribe has gotten its land back,” Tom Little Bear Nason told Monterey County Now. “We consider the place sacred and we intend to protect it. We will use it to preserve our traditions.”
Nason, who heads the Esselen Tribe of Monterey, a nonprofit set up in June to accept ownership of the ranch, also added that there will be no commercialization of the land and their culture, although they do plan to allow small tour groups to visit and learn from their settlement a few times a year.
“The possession of land has played a role in how other tribes have gained acknowledgement,” he continued, referencing the 2010 rejection by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. “It could bolster [the Esselen tribe’s] claims of political and social continuity”.
Nason also said the tribe plans on using the land to carry out rites of passage, birthing ceremonies, and funerals, while also transporting the remains of deceased relatives onto the land of their ancestors.
Oil Company Surrenders 15 Land Leases on Sacred Native American Land
McKinley Corbley, Good News Network, Nov. 19, 2019
During a ceremony in Washington, DC this Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Interior announced it was canceling 15 energy exploration leases on land that is sacred to Native Americans.
The Badger-Two Medicine area is an expanse of wilderness stretching along the Montana mountain line that is home to the Blackfoot people. For the last 10,000 years, Blackfoot members have found cultural identity in the 130,000 acres of the Badger-Two Medicine land. The tribe has vehemently protested and opposed the land leases since they were signed without their consultation almost thirty years ago.
The oil and natural gas company in question, Devon Energy Corp, acquired the land leases after merging with another company. Company president David Hager surrendered the land after acknowledging that the pristine landscape was not theirs to invade. The process of fracking that would have gleaned the natural gas could also have harmed the water supply which is in close proximity to the leased parcel.
There are two land leases left on the holy land that are still owned by other energy companies, but the U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary, Sally Jewell, is determined to prevent them from drilling on the Blackfeet territory.
“This is the right action to take on behalf of current and future generations,” said Secretary Jewell. “Today’s action honors Badger-Two Medicine’s rich cultural and natural resources and recognizes the irreparable impacts that oil and gas development would have on them.”