Over 40 acres of ancestral land in California returned to Native American tribe

In a historic move, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) will transfer more than 40 acres of the Mount Whitney Fish Hatchery to the Fort Independence Indian Community, signifying the first-ever land return by CDFW to a California Native American tribe, Governor Gavin Newsom's office announced Friday.

The Fort Independence Indian Community, a federally recognized tribe of Paiute people, has been stewards of this land for generations, safeguarding its ecosystem. With the return of the land, the tribe aims to revive traditional land management practices, fostering a healthier environment.

Newsom emphasized the significance of this milestone in the partnership between California tribes and the state, focusing on building bridges and healing historical wounds. The Fort Independence Indian Community's longstanding connection to this land is integral to their culture, and the restoration of this relationship is poised to benefit not only the tribe but all communities in the area and across the state.

Tribal Chairman Carl Dahlberg highlighted the importance of water in Paiute culture, stating, "Our Indigenous Paiute members settled on the banks of the Oak Creek since time immemorial, and these lands have always been sacred to our people." 

The Mount Whitney Fish Hatchery property holds cultural significance, serving as a cultivation site for indigenous plants, such as taboose and nahavita. The tribe aims to preserve this knowledge and history through the preservation of the hatchery.

Tribal Affairs Secretary Christina Snider-Ashtari expressed the state's commitment to supporting tribal reunification with their homelands, cultures, and practices. This initiative aligns with Governor Newsom's broader efforts to address historical wrongs and promote access and inclusion for California Native peoples.

As part of these efforts, Newsom has collaboratively established a historic $101 million Tribal Nature-Based Solutions Program. The program supports tribal initiatives that contribute to the well-being of their communities, aligning with California's climate and conservation goals. It can be utilized for community and workforce development initiatives and land acquisition.

This grant program builds on Newsom's directive for state entities to cooperate with California tribes interested in acquiring natural lands beyond state needs. It further supports California tribes' co-management and access to natural lands within their ancestral territories.