California Indian tribe gets back Big Sur ancestral lands

The land lies on the north side of the Little Sur River, where endangered steelhead fish spawn, and encompasses old-growth redwoods, oak woodlands and meadows.

A Native American tribe has reclaimed a small part of ancestral lands on California’s scenic Big Sur coast that were lost to Spanish colonial settlement nearly 250 years ago.

The Esselen Tribe of Monterey County closed escrow on 1,199 acres (485 hectares) about 5 miles (8 kilometers) inland from the ocean that was part of a $4.5 million deal involving the state and the Western Rivers Conservancy, The Mercury News reported Monday.

It marks the first restoration of any lands to the tribe, which lost 90% of its approximately 1,000 members to disease and other causes by the early 1800s.

“It is beyond words for us, the highest honor,” said Tom Little Bear Nason, chairman of the tribe. “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.”

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