In California, 523 acres of redwood forest have been returned to a group of Native American tribes whose ancestors were forcibly removed from the land generations ago, per a statement from Save the Redwoods League.
The league, a nonprofit that works to protect and restore redwood forests, purchased the property back in 2020 and donated it to the InterTribal Sinkyone Wilderness Council, a consortium of ten federally recognized northern California tribal nations. In turn, the league was granted a conservation easement, which prohibits commercial timbering, fragmentation, development or public access, per the league’s project overview.
The land, formerly named Andersonia West, will again be called Tc’ih-Léh-Dûñ, which means "Fish Run Place” in the Sinkyone language.
"It's a gift — a real blessing to our tribes," Priscilla Hunter, chair of the Sinkyone Council and a tribal citizen of the Coyote Valley Band of Pomo Indians, tells KQED’s Matthew Green. "Our relatives and our ancestors are happy and can be at peace, because this is where our ancestors were forced off their land and had to run away from either being killed or taken away. I believe that their spirits and our spirits are connected together today in a happy time."
The Sinkyone people lived on the land in California for thousands of years, traveling, hunting and fishing throughout their territory. But white settlers arrived in the 1800s and decimated the Sinkyone population through state-sanctioned murders, starvation, diseases and other atrocities, per the Tc’ih-Léh-Dûñ project overview. Survivors were exiled and some became members of federally recognized tribes.
Settlers extensively logged redwoods, which tribes consider as relatives and sacred beings, per the league. Now, from southern Oregon to central California, only five percent of the original old-growth forest remains, reports Laurel Sutherland for Mongabay.
Tc’ih-Léh-Dûñ is home to 200 acres of old-growth coast redwoods and federally threatened animals such as the northern spotted owl and the marbled murrelet.
Together, the council and league plan to “apply a blend of Indigenous place-based land guardianship principles, conservation science, climate adaptation and fire resiliency concepts and approaches to help ensure lasting protection and long-term healing for Tc’ih-Léh-Dûñ and its diverse flora and fauna,” per the statement.
“The protection of Tc’ih-Léh-Dûñ means everything because this is how we’ve survived. This is who we were and are,” says Jesse Gonzalez, a tribal citizen of Scotts Valley Band of Pomo Indians and alternate board member of the Sinkyone Council in a blog post. “Enough has been taken away. If we can do anything to help preserve the land, the wildlife, nature—we want to be a part of that. Because that’s us.”
This is the second property the league donated to the council. In 2012, 164 acres north of Tc’ih-Léh-Dûñ was returned to the Sinkyone Council.
"You have a lot of happy Indians up this way," Hunter tells KQED. "It's not often that you get land donated back to the Indians. You know, they're always taking it."