Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

California Tribe Wins Control of Native Lands and Plans Nature Park

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

California Tribe Wins Control of Native Lands and Plans Nature Park

Article excerpt

AFTER eight years of effort and three generations of lost dreams, people indigenous to a once lush Northern California coastal rain forest are finally going back home.

In a momentous decision, the state of California recently returned 3,900 acres of its last redwood rain forest to the region's natives for creation of the nation's first InterTribal Wilderness Park.

The InterTribal Sinkyone Wilderness Council (ITSWC), in Ukiah, Calif., hopes to restore the ancestral homeland area to its original condition -- a diverse habitat for rare wildlife species such as the bald eagle and Pacific salmon.

"We will protect the Sinkyone, provide access to all people, and provide a living intertribal park," Priscilla Hunter, chairwoman of ITSWC, told the California Coastal Conservancy board, an arbitration committee that answers to the state of California.

The ITSWC is a consortium of 10 federally recognized California Indian tribes that has been working since 1985 to acquire its ancestral homelands.

Loggers vs. Indians

The debate that led up to the state's decision focused around three arguments made by the logging industry, native Americans, and environmentalists.

* Timber officials adamantly objected to the park proposal, calling it a $1.4 million "giveaway" at taxpayers' expense. Timber families in the area will suffer, union members say.

* Hawk Rosales, coordinator of the ITSWC, says that giving the Sinkyone over to native Americans will bring a new dimension to land-management practices.

"When we bring that spiritual sensitivity ... into the realm of restoring and managing degraded forest lands, then we are bringing into our work a perspective largely missing from the land-management efforts," he says.

Present practice is to create monocultural tree farms suitable for timber harvest. Natives, Mr. Rosales says, want a more balanced and diverse ecosystem.

* Many environmental organizations are looking to the InterTribal park as a potential example of how a long-term, sustainable human economy can work, says Cecelia Lanman, spokeswoman for the Garberville, Calif.-based Environmental Information Protection Center. "The basis of human economy needs to be very similar to what native Americans practiced for a long time," she says. …

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