(CNN) A northern California Indian tribe's sacred land is
now back under their ownership, thanks to the help of a conservancy
The Esselen Tribe, one of the state's smallest and least well known
tribes, inhabited the Santa Lucia Mountains and the Big Sur coast
for thousands of years, according to their
website. Nearly 250 years ago, their land was taken from them
by Spanish explorers, according to the tribe's history.
The tribe remained landless until Monday.
The Esselen Tribe of Monterey County (ETMC) closed escrow on a
$4.5 million deal with Western
Rivers Conservancy (WRC), an environmental group, to purchase
nearly 1,200 acres in Big Sur. The WRC acquires land with the purpose
of finding a long-term steward that will conserve the natural habitat.
In October the
group announced it helped the tribe to be rewarded a grant through
the California Natural Resources Agency that covered the purchase
of the land.
"It is with great honor that our tribe has been called by our Ancestors
to become stewards of these sacred indigenous lands once again,"
Tom Little Bear Nason, Tribal Chairman of the ETMC, said in a statement
"These lands are home to many ancient villages of our people, and
directly across the Little Sur River sits Pico Blanco or 'Pitchi',
which is the most sacred spot on the coast for the Esselen People
and the center of our origin story."
Future of the land
The land, which was known as the Adler Ranch, first came to the
attention of WRC in 2015 when the long time owners had being trying
to sell the property for years, Sue Doroff, president of WRC, told
CNN on Wednesday.
A view of the redwoods
on the property. (photo by Doug Steakley/Western Rivers Conservancy)
The area piqued the conservation group's interest because it is
known for its giant redwoods, an ideal nesting place for one of
the largest flying birds in the world, the California condor.
"The old-growth redwoods on this property are genetically adaptive
to the warmer dry climate of Big Sur," Doroff said. "These trees
will be important for the future effort to assist in redwood survival."
The Little Sur River runs along one side of the property with a
tributary jutting onto the land, which is a spawning ground for
the South-Central California Coast Steelhead, said
the WRC. Both these species are in dire need of conservation.
is listed as endangered and the steelhead
as threatened on the Endangered Species Act.
Both parties agreed that the land will not be commercially developed
on and that conservation efforts will continue, according to Doroff.
"We are proud of our involvement here and conserving this landscape,"
Doroff said. "We are honored to be a part of rebuilding the Esselen
In addition to conservation efforts, the ETMC plans on building
a village that other indigenous tribes in the area can utilize.
They are also planning to host public educational events to teach
others about their culture, according to Doroff.
"We are going to conserve it and pass it on to our children and
grandchildren and beyond," Nason told The
Mercury News. "Getting this land back gives privacy to do our
ceremonies. It gives us space and the ability to continue our culture
without further interruption."
Esselen 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.