The tribe purchased
the 1,200 acre ranch near Big Sur as part of a $4.5m deal and will
use it for educational and cultural purposes
The Esselen Tribe of
Monterey county now owns a small piece of their ancestral
land along Californias north central coast. Photograph:
Two-hundred and fifty years after they were stripped of their ancestral
homeland, the Esselen tribe of northern California is landless no
This week, the Esselen tribe finalized the purchase of a 1,200-acre
ranch near Big Sur, along Californias north central coast,
as part of a $4.5m acquisition that involved the state and an Oregon-based
The deal 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
Tribal leaders say theyll 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 tribes origin
Were the original stewards of the land. Now were
returned, Tom Little Bear Nason, chairman of the Esselen tribe
of Monterey county, told the Santa
We are going to conserve it and pass it on to our children
and grandchildren and beyond.
The deal by the Esselen
tribe will protect the Little Sur River.
Photograph: Doug Steakley/AP
Nearly 250 years ago, Spanish soldiers built a military outpost
in Monterey and Franciscan padres founded missions in nearby settlements
places where tribal members were brought to be baptized and
converted to Catholicism. By the early 1800s, nearly all of the
remaining tribe had been decimated by disease and death. Esselen
tribal members were stripped of their land, language and culture.
But this week, after 250 years, their descendants reclaimed some
of their land. The tribe has no plans on leaving.
We are back after a 250-year absence because in 1770
our people were taken to the missions, Nason told Monterey
County Weekly. Now we are back home. We plan on keeping
this land forever.
Since the 1950s the property, known as Rancho Aguila, had been
owned by Axel Adler, a Swedish immigrant. After his death in 2004,
his family put it up for sale for $15m. After years-long negotiations,
the Western Rivers Conservancy, a Portland-based environmental group,
etched a deal to purchase the land and hand it over to the US Forest
Working on behalf of the tribe, the conservancy secured a $4.5m
grant from the California Natural Resources Agency to cover the
land purchase and studies of the area.
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.
To be a part of helping a tribe regain its homeland is great,
said Sue Doroff, president of the Western Rivers Conservancy.
While the property was originally expected to be broken in five
lots that developers could build on, this weeks deal will
allow the tribe to preserve the land as undeveloped.
Nason said the 214-member Esselen tribe will share it with other
groups also native to the area, including the Ohlone, the Amah Mutsun
and the Rumsen people all of whom were devastated by the
arrival of white settlers.
Getting this land back gives privacy to do our ceremonies,
Nason 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.
Tribe of Monterey County
The Esselen Tribe of Monterey County is first and foremost a Tribal
Group working toward continuing cultural traditions and preserving
the cultural heritage of the historic tribes that are located within
Monterey County. The Esselen Tribe of Monterey County is also registered
as a Non-Profit Organization and was founded with the goal of continuing
cultural traditions and preserving the cultural heritage of the
historic tribes that are located within Monterey County, along with
protecting and preserving the recognized and unrecognized sacred
lands and archeological sites.
Western Rivers Conservancy protects outstanding river ecosystems
throughout the western United States. We acquire land to conserve
critical habitat, provide public access for compatible use and enjoyment,
and cooperate with other agencies and organizations to secure the
health of whole ecosystems.