On the West Coast of the US, there are 523 acres of forest that used to be home to many more ancient redwoods than what we are left with today. Scattered stumps throughout the region are sad reminders of the majestic trees that once grew there—but luckily, there are still 200 acres that are dense with old-growth redwoods that survived the logging.
This very land was once the hunting, fishing, and ceremonial grounds of generations of Indigenous tribes such as the Sinkyone peoples. However, they were forced off their ancestral lands by European settlers. In early 2021, the Save the Redwoods League, a California nonprofit organization devoted to protecting redwoods announced that this wrong will finally be righted.
The group purchased the forest with corporate donations in 2020 and has declared that it will transfer ownership of the 523-acre property to the Intertribal Sinkyone Wilderness Council. The council is comprised of a group of 10 Native tribes whose ancestors were “forcibly removed” from this very land by European American settlers. Now, the tribes will be the legal guardians of the land together with the Save the Redwoods League, which has been protecting and restoring redwood forests for over a century.
After more than 175 years, the members of the tribes represented by the council have access to their sacred and ancestral land that had historically been used for hunting, fishing, and ceremonies.
“Fundamentally, we believed that the best way to permanently protect and heal this land is through tribal stewardship,” said chief executive of the Save the Redwoods League Sam Hodder during an interview. “In this process, we have an opportunity to restore balance in the ecosystem and in the communities connected to it.”
Hawk Rosales, an Indigenous land defender and a former executive director of the Intertribal Sinkyone Wilderness Council was also interviewed on the day the land transfer was announced. “It is rare when these lands return to the original peoples of those places,” he said. “We have an intergenerational commitment and a goal to protect these lands and, in doing so, protecting tribal cultural ways of life and revitalizing them.”
The land, which was known before the purchase as Andersonia West, is now called Tc’ih-Léh-Dûñ (pronounced tsih-ih-LEY-duhn), as part of the agreement. In the Sinkyone language, this translates to “Fish Run Place.” According to Crista Ray, a board member of the Sinkyone Council, the name change “lets [people] know that there was a language and that there was a people who lived there long before now.”