Yurok Becomes First Tribe to Co-Manage Land With National Park Service

Yurok Tribe in California First to Co-manage Land With National Park Service

The Redwoods forests are a magnificent part of Yurok heritage and present day life. (Photo: Michael Schweppe via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 2.0 DEED)

Towering Redwood trees cover much of what is now northern California. Old growth groves can boast trees over 20 feet wide that have stood on that spot over 2,000 years. These ancient plants have always been critical to the culture and provision of Indigenous people local to the region, among them the prominent Yurok Tribe. While this connection to the Redwoods remains strong today, most Yurok and neighboring Indigenous lands were stolen away in greed for gold and lumber over the years. Now, a historic memorandum signed on March 19, 2024, agrees to transfer an important 125-acre parcel known as ‘O Rew back to the Yurok Tribe, who will co-manage a “gateway” to the state and National Parks with these respective park services.

The agreement is signed by the Tribe, the Save the Redwoods League, the National Park Service, and California State Parks. The Save the Redwoods League is a non-profit who currently owns the land, which they purchased in 2013 with the purpose of restoring it. It had previously been paved and its natural stream obstructed by a lumber company. In a statement, Joseph L. James, the chairman of the Yurok Tribe, announced, “On behalf of the Yurok people, I want to sincerely thank Save the Redwoods League for committing to repatriate this critical part of our homeland. We are also appreciative of Redwood National and State Parks’ participation in this truly one-of-a-kind partnership. Together, we are creating a new conservation model that recognizes the value of Tribal land management.”

The Tribe will soon be the official owners of the land which will serve as a “gateway” to the magnificent redwood parks. ‘O Rew will connect to trails within the parks, allowing access. The Tribe is working to restore native plant life be reseeding thousands of plants. They are continuing their partnership with Save the Redwoods to restore Prairie Creek, which runs through ‘O Rew and was once a salmon habitat. A new channel has been cut with ponds. Frogs, salamanders, and salmon have already begun to return in impressive numbers.

In addition to the restoration of the natural landscape, the Tribe and the other signatories have planned educational and cultural sites. A visitor center will welcome, while a cultural center will display artifacts repatriated to the Tribe. Traditional plank houses and a sweat lodge will also give insight into how Yurok past and present have been influenced by the Redwoods. Armando Quintero, director of California State Parks, said, “This historic agreement provides a pathway for the addition of Indigenous lands to the suite of values employed in co-managing and protecting Redwood National and State Parks lands for the enjoyment of public and Indigenous peoples in the region.”

There is a growing Land Back movement to return stolen lands to Indigenous tribes, particularly the National Parks. The transfer of ‘O Rew hopefully foresees transfers to come, and it will help steward the Redwoods into the future.

A portion of land which serves as a gateway to the Redwood National and State Parks will be returned to the Indigenous ownership of the Yurok Tribe, who will co-manage with the park services.

Yurok Tribe in California First to Co-manage Land With National Park Service

A reconstructed, traditional Yurok plank house using Redwood boards. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)

h/t: [The Guardian]

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Madeleine Muzdakis

Madeleine Muzdakis is a Contributing Writer at My Modern Met and a historian of early modern Britain & the Atlantic world. She holds a BA in History and Mathematics from Brown University and an MA in European & Russian Studies from Yale University. Madeleine has worked in archives and museums for years with a particular focus on photography and arts education. When she isn’t writing, she enjoys hiking, film photography, and studying law while cuddling with her cat Georgia.
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