In 1770, the people of the Esselen Tribe of northern California were forcibly removed from their lands and brought to Spanish missions. But now, after more than 250 years, the Esselen tribe is landless no more.
This week, the Esselen tribe finalized the purchase of a 1,200-acre ranch near Big Sur, along California’s north-central coast, as part of a $4.5 million acquisition that involved the state and an Oregon-based environmental group. The deal signifies a return to their ancestral homelands. It is also a big win for environmentalists as the tribe will conserve old-growth redwoods and endangered wildlife such as the California condor and red-legged frog, as well as protect the Little Sur River, an important spawning stream for the imperiled steelhead trout.
Tribal leaders say they’ll use the land for educational and cultural purposes, building a sweat lodge and traditional village in view of Pico Blanco peak, the center of the tribe’s origin story.
“We’re the original stewards of the land. Now we’re returned,” Tom Little Bear Nason, chairman of the Esselen Tribe of Monterey County, told the Santa Cruz Sentinel. “We are going to conserve it and pass it on to our children and grandchildren and beyond.”
This isn’t the first time we’ve written about an indigenous tribe in California reclaiming their ancestral homelands. Just last November, we published a story about the City of Eureka returning a sacred island back to the Wiyot Tribe in the far north of California.