- After more than two centuries, the Esselen tribe in California was finally able to get back a part of their former homeland.
- It was in the late 1700s when they almost dwindled after Spanish missionaries came and ruled over them.
- Through the help of an environmental group, they were able to buy 1,199 acres of their former homeland.
After about 250 years since Spanish soldiers had driven the Esselen Tribe out from their lands on the Northern California coast, the time has come for them to reclaim their home.
According to The Mercury News report on Monday, the Esselen Tribe from Monterey County procured 1,199 acres of land near the coast of California’s Big Sur. All thanks to the $4.5 million grant through the Western Rivers Conservancy, an environmental organization based in Oregon.
This is the first time that the Native American tribe was able to reclaim a parcel of land in its original territory after over two centuries since their way of life was destroyed by Spanish missionaries.
“It is beyond words for us, the highest honor,” Tom Little Bear Nason, chairman of the tribe, told the outlet. “The land is the most important thing to us. It is our homeland, the creation story of our lives. We are so elated and grateful.”
Based on the tribe’s website, Spanish missionary Junipero Sierra came in the late 1700s and formed three missions on their land to convert them to Catholicism.
The Esselen and four other tribes were prohibited by the Spaniards to speak their native tongue and practice their own traditions. Men were separated from their families and they all suffer corporal punishment should they disobey the rules.
Because of this, 90 percent of about 1,000 Esselen tribe members died — including those who died of disease and other reasons — in the early 1800s.
Now, the land that they bought was owned previously by Axel Adler, a Swedish immigrant who died in 2004. Initially, the Western Rivers Conservancy wanted to buy the land and put it under the U.S. Forest Service. But due to concerns of possible tourist influx that may damage the land, they decided to grant the Esselen Tribe millions of dollars through the California Natural Resources Agency so that they would be the ones to make the purchase.
“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,” Western Rivers Conservancy president, Sue Doroff, told Mercury News.
As of today, the Esselen tribe has 214 members and they are planning to build a ritual lodge and a traditional village where they can educate people about their culture.
“Getting this land back gives privacy to do our ceremonies,” the tribe chairman 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.”