Yurok Chairman Joseph L. James speaks about the importance of the Yurok Lands Act at a hearing of the U.S. Natural Resources’ Subcommittee for Indigenous Peoples of the United States on Wednesday. The act would return 1,229 acres of land to the tribe. (Screenshot)
PUBLISHED: September 14, 2022 at 1:38 p.m. | UPDATED: September 14, 2022 at 1:39 p.m.
North Coast tribes have been working for years on restoring their ancestral land, and the federal government seems poised to return some of that land to the Yurok and Karuk tribes in the near future.
At a hearing of the U.S. Natural Resources’ Subcommittee for Indigenous Peoples of the United States on Wednesday, Yurok Chairman Joseph L. James and Karuk Chairman Russell “Buster” Attebery spoke about the ecological and cultural significance of the U.S. Forest Service land that would be returned to their tribes through the Yurok Lands Act and Katimiîn and Ameekyáaraam Sacred Lands Act, introduced by North Coast Rep. Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael).
“Congressman Huffman and staff have held countless meetings with us, other tribes and local entities to thoroughly vet this bill,” James said. ” … This bill has won wide support and we’ll continue to work on the passage of this bill because the future of the Yurok people depends on it. We will also continue to support land restoration for all tribes.”
“The seizing of these lands by the United States was done without the free, prior, informed consent of the Karuk Tribe,” Attebery said, “nor did the establishment of the National Forest System specify its direct effects on our people. Our people have lived and conducted ceremonies in these sacred lands since time began and the stewardship and management of these lands are vital to the preservation and continuation of Karuk culture, language, religion and identity.”
Karuk Chairman Russell “Buster” Attebery speaks about the importance of the Katimiîn and Ameekyáaraam Sacred Lands Act at a hearing of the U.S. Natural Resources’ Subcommittee for Indigenous Peoples of the United States on Wednesday. The act would return 1,031 acres of land to the tribe. (Screenshot)
The Yurok Lands Act would transfer 1,229 acres of land in the Yurok Experimental Forest and Six Rivers National Forest into a trust held by the Secretary of the Interior for the benefit of the Yurok Tribe. The act would also adjust the boundaries of the Yurok Reservation and would allow the U.S. Forest Service to continue research activities in the forest in perpetuity.
The Katimiîn and Ameekyáaraam Sacred Lands Act would place 1,031 acres of federal land in Humboldt and Siskiyou counties into a trust, also held by the Secretary of the Interior, for the benefit of the Karuk Tribe.
James and Attebery testified on a panel alongside chairs of mostly West Coast tribes, who also spoke in favor of bills that, among other things, would place land for their tribes into a trust. Bringing land into federal trust makes it an official part of the tribe’s sovereign boundaries, which the federal government has had a policy of encouraging for almost a hundred years.
Both James and Attebery thanked the past tribal leadership and elders who kept their respective traditions alive, while preserving their sacred sites, in the face of difficult times.
Discussions with other area tribes, including the Trinidad Rancheria and the Hoopa Valley Tribe, resulted in some meaningful changes that fostered a broader consensus for the Yurok Lands Act.
Huffman said, “The wonderful thing about both of these bills and the wide array of local support that we have is that they are involving really special sacred places, doing important things to improve the lives of tribal communities and, frankly, correcting historic injustices.”
Sonia Waraich can be reached at 707-441-0504.