Tuesday, November 30

‘Joining a broken heart’: Native Americans rebuild lost territories | American natives

METERMore than six decades after a 1,705-acre patchwork of grasslands, wetlands and forests in southern Oregon was taken from the Klamath tribes, the Native American community has found its way back to the territory through the real estate market.

During the summer, the tribes discovered that the land was up for sale, so as part of their large-scale effort to reclaim territory that was historically theirs, they prepared an offer. Although another buyer was about to enter, the tribes’ purchase more than doubles their current holdings and extends their territory to the base of Yamsay Mountain, an important site for prayer and spiritual journeys for the community.

Willa Powless, a Klamath Tribes board member at large, said it was an important step in rebuilding a “broken heart.”

“Our people are born with a spiritual connection to the land that we all feel and know about and that our elders teach us about,” he said. Regaining that “great piece of land, especially undeveloped land, is really powerful. And it’s probably one of the most healing processes we’ve been through in a long time. “

The Klamath Purchase is just the most recent example of tribes in the United States purchasing lost land during and after the colonization period on the open market.

Sarah Krakoff, a law professor at the University of Colorado Boulder and an expert on Native American law, said she has noticed the upswing in such acquisitions in recent decades, after tribes were able to rebuild their government functions and obtain funding. .

“The 1970s were the starting point, but then it takes a while to develop all kinds of infrastructure: you need legal experience, knowledge and experience in management, and ways to acquire or organize transactions,” he said.

Wisconsin’s Oneida Nation, for example, has managed to buy back two-thirds of its original 65,432-acre reserve, much of which was lost through “hoaxes and ruses,” said Bobbi Webster, the tribe’s director of public relations. They have been able to recover most of it in just the last 20 years, buying it through people who put it up for sale and real estate companies who put it on the market.

The Oneida “really began to flourish or expand our economic development with the start of gambling in the 1980s, so by generating income from our gambling operations, we were able to identify reserves over the years to buy land,” he said. Webster.

The Yurok tribe in California has purchased about 80,000 acres in just the last decade. Vice President Frankie Myers said the tribe is fortunate that most of its ancestral territory is owned by a logging company, so it only has to negotiate with one seller.

But, he said, “it is still a daunting task to get these huge amounts of money to pay for it and how to pay it back.”

A view of the Klamath River from the community of Weitchpec, California, which is part of the Yurok tribe reservation.
A view of the Klamath River from the community of Weitchpec, California, which is part of the Yurok tribe reservation. Photograph: Alexandra Hootnick / The Guardian

The process of reacquire this land is in stark contrast to how they lost it in the first place.

About 150 years ago, the Klamath tribes ceded more than 23 million acres of traditional lands to the US, and signed a treaty to finally establish a reserve of approximately 1.8 million acres. But those acres were steadily shrinking, and by 1954, the federal government forcibly ended its tribal recognition and the community lost the remaining thousands of acres.

Now, with their federal recognition intact, the Klamath tribes are working to reclaim much more of this lost land in order to protect the environment and improve their fishing, hunting and feeding rights.

“I hear the elders say: ‘The land does not belong to us, we belong to it.’ And I think that’s true, ”said Clayton Dumont, a Klamath board member at large. “The more we recover, the more we can take care of it, the healthier the earth will be and the healthier we will be.”

Once land is purchased, it is an arduous process to obtain full government authority over it, including the ability to make laws and also impose taxes, while it is generally immune from state taxes. To do this, the tribes must convert the parcel to trust land, whereby the federal government holds it in trust on behalf of the tribe.

According to the United States Department of the Interior, some 56 million acres of native lands have been entrusted.

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in North Carolina currently has two applications in the middle of this process, said chief tribal chief Richard Sneed. One includes Kituwah, a town he described as the birthplace of the Cherokee and “the most sacred part of the Cherokee land for all Cherokees everywhere.”

It has been about three years since the application process began, and Sneed said that just a couple of weeks ago, he received a letter from the Bureau of Indian Affairs saying they had only made it to step eight of the 16-step process.

The Klamath tribes could have a long wait with their latest purchase. But even buying this land is a key achievement for them. In the past, they say, they have faced instances of racism and negativity from the local community at large when it comes to getting more land.

While maneuvering through this latest deal, they have kept the buyback extremely quiet, even delaying any interview with the local newspaper on the matter and without publicly disclosing the price they paid. But now that it has been finalized, the community is planning a celebration for the summer and is also looking towards the next land acquisition.

“It’s very important to me, but I don’t want to be complacent and satisfied,” said Jared Hall, Klamath Tribes director of planning.

“I want to remain hungry in the land acquisition effort. I think if you stay complacent and don’t want to wake up and try to fight for more land “, and instead a tribe is” happy with what you have … I think that’s what you will get. “


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