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Know the West

Tribes create a wilderness park

  Buying back part of their original homeland, 11 tribes in California have established the first Native American-owned park, located 200 miles north of San Francisco along the California coast.

The 3,900-acre InterTribal Sinkyone (pronounced sinky-own) Wilderness Park will be managed differently than Yellowstone or the Grand Canyon, however, because the tribes, including descendants of the Pomo, Wailaki, Cahto and Yuki people, want the land to remain as wild as possible.

"There will be very limited public access to the park," said InterTribal Council executive director Hawk Rosales, with entry via three hiking trails. But first, the tribes will complete a management plan and inventory which could take three years.

The tribes' plan must mesh with a conservation easement, managed by the nonprofit Pacific Forest Trust. The easement says the park may be used for tourism, traditional tribal hunting and gathering, and forest management which would result in mature, old-growth coastal redwood-fir forest.

The tribes, with the help of a $1.3 million Lannan Foundation grant, bought the land from The Trust for Public Land for $1.4 million last August. Georgia-Pacific Corp. sold the land to the Trust in 1986 after environmentalists sued the company to stop clear-cut logging.

Because much of the land has been heavily logged and crisscrossed by roads, Rosales said, the tribes will work to restore salmon habitat and redwood forests. Another goal is to allow the tribes' 7,500 members access to traditional hunting and gathering.

The tribes also plan to use the park for retreats, and as a place to rebuild cultural identity. The U.S. Army and settlers wiped out most of the area's Native Americans in the mid-1800s, Rosales said, but descendants of the survivors have returned to the area annually to hunt, fish and pray.

Rosales hopes the park will set an example to other native peoples. "This is the first time," he said, "that a significant portion of land has been returned to Indian people with a focus on traditional cultural uses."

For more information, contact the InterTribal Sinkyone Wilderness Council at 707/463-6745, or write them at 190 Ford Road, No. 333, Ukiah, CA 95482.

*Jason Lenderman