California Redwood Forest Officially Reclaimed By Indigenous Peoples

Tc’ih-Léh-Dûñ is a coastal conifer forest that’s home to an incredible diversity of trees, including the largest and tallest trees in the world, redwoods. Image credit: Max Forster (@maxforsterphotography), courtesy of Save the Redwoods League

A coalition of Native American tribes has reclaimed guardianship of a redwood forest in northern California they were forcibly removed from by European-American colonizers generations ago.

The Save the Redwoods League purchased a 211.65-hectare (523-acre) area patch of redwood forest on the remote northern California coastal area known as “the Lost Coast” back for $3.55 million in July 2020.

This week, the group announced they have officially handed over ownership of the property to the InterTribal Sinkyone Wilderness Council, a consortium of 10 federally recognized Northern California Tribal Nations.

To honor the heritage of the forest, it will return to its original name of Tc’ih-Léh-Dûñ, meaning "Fish Run Place" in the Sinkyone language.

"Renaming the property Tc’ih-Léh-Dûñ lets people know that it’s a sacred place; it’s a place for our Native people,” Crista Ray, a board member of the Sinkyone Council who is of Eastern Pomo, Sinkyone, Cahto, Wailaki, and other ancestries, said in a statement.

"It lets them know that there was a language and that there was a people who lived there long before now."

“Today I stand on the shoulders of giants, my ancestors… to bring them honor, and to not let our old ways be forgotten, for our next generation, my children, my grandchildren and all the kids that I’ll never get to see,” added Buffie Schmidt, vice-chairperson of the Sherwood Valley Rancheria of Pomo Indians and board treasurer of the Sinkyone Council, who is of Northern Pomo and other ancestries.

Tc’ih-Léh-Dûñ is a coastal conifer forest that’s home to an incredible diversity of plant life and trees – including the largest and tallest trees in the world, redwoods. It also supports an abundance of rare and endangered animals, including coho salmon, steelhead trout, marbled murrelet, and northern spotted owl.

The tribal peoples of Sinkyone, Cahto, Coast Yuki, Mattole, Nekanni, Pomo, and other neighboring lineages lived around this rugged land – what's now called southern Humboldt County and northern Mendocino County – for thousands of years.

The status quo was severely disrupted in the 19th century when European colonizers began forcibly displacing the local population. Through state-sanctioned massacres, starvation, diseases, and other atrocities, the indigenous culture was decimated and the survivors exiled to reservations far from their traditional homelands.

Returning this land to its original owners is not just an important cultural and historical shift, but it also hopes to foster the restoration of this ancient ecosystem, which was significantly impacted through historical logging.

The Sinkyone Council has designated Tc’ih-Léh-Dûñ as a Tribal Protected Area that will not allow commercial timber operations, fragmentation, development, or public access.

“The Sinkyone Council today represents the Indigenous Peoples who are the original stewards of this land. Their connection to the redwood forest is longstanding, and it is deep,” explained Sam Hodder, president and CEO of Save the Redwoods League.

“The League is honored to support a return of Native people to this place and to partner with the Sinkyone Council in their management and stewardship of Tc’ih-Léh-Dûñ. We believe the best way to permanently protect and heal this land is through tribal stewardship."

"In this process, we have an opportunity to restore balance in the ecosystem and in the communities connected to it, while also accelerating the pace and scale of conserving California’s iconic redwood forests.”

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