California’s Yurok Tribe To Regain Lost Gold Rush Land As Gateway To Redwood National Park

Having lost 90 percent of its territory during the 1800s gold rush, a historic memorandum signed on March 19, 2024, will see a region of land returned to the Yurok Tribe, with plans for it to serve as a future gateway to the Redwood National and State Parks, managed by both the tribe and the National Park Service.

“Today we acknowledge and celebrate the opportunity to return Indigenous guardianship to ‘O Rew and reimagine how millions of visitors from around the world experience the redwoods,” said Sam Hodder, president and CEO of Save the Redwoods League, in a statement. “Today’s agreement starts the process of changing the narrative about how, by whom and for whom we steward natural lands.”

The 125-acre site, known as ‘O Rew in the Yurok language, was taken and exploited for its natural resources, including redwood trees back in the 1800s gold rush. In 2013, the land was purchased by the Save the Redwoods League, who have since worked with the Yurok Tribe to restore and repatriate the land.

Those efforts have seen the creation of a new stream channel, ponds, floodplain habitats, and the planting of more than 50,000 native plants, such as the iconic coast redwood. As a result, an area that had become degraded has now seen the return of a wealth of species, including frogs, salamanders, and songbirds.

“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,” said Joseph L. James, the Chairman of the Yurok Tribe. “Together, we are creating a new conservation model that recognizes the value of tribal land management.”

That conservation model will see the Yurok Tribe working with the National Park Service and California State Parks, marking the first time park services will have supported visitation and stewardship on land owned by a Tribe.

“This is a first-of-its-kind arrangement, where Tribal land is co-stewarded with a national park as its gateway to millions of visitors. This action will deepen the relationship between Tribes and the National Park Service,” said Redwoods National Park Superintendent Steve Mietz, also noting that the work carried out so far has been “healing the land while healing the relationships among all the people who inhabit this magnificent forest.”

The return of the land to the Yurok Tribe is set to be completed in 2026. Until then, there are plans to create new accessible trails and exhibits for visitors. After the repatriation, the Yurok Tribe is planning to build a traditional village on the site, as well as a visitor center that will aim to highlight the culture and history of the Tribe and the land.

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