California tribes to spend $107M in state funds to buy ancestral lands

By Daniel Cusick | 05/22/2024 01:47 PM EDT

The program, initiated last year, will allow tribes to purchase 38,000 acres of land.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom addresses a meeting of Native American tribal leaders.

Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) addresses a meeting of tribal leaders June 18, 2019, the day he issued a formal apology to the state's Native Americans. Rich Pedroncelli/AP

California tribes forced to cede millions of acres of ancestral land to a new state government during the mid-19th century are getting some compensation for their losses under a reparations program initiated last year by Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Thirty-four tribes will share in about $107 million in grants from the California Natural Resources Agency under its tribal nature-based solutions grant program. The grants, announced last month, will underwrite buybacks of 38,000 acres of private lands once occupied by Indigenous tribes.

State officials said the program also helps advance the state’s conservation initiative to protect 30 percent of California’s land and coastal waters by 2030, while promoting the use of traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) to address climate threats like flood, drought and wildfire. TEK, long overlooked by academically trained ecologists, has informed Native American land stewardship for millennia.


“This is not only the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do because our tribal communities have been caring for our lands and waters for thousands of years,” said Wade Crowfoot, the state’s natural resources secretary, said Tuesday during a webinar with tribal representatives, state officials and others. “What’s remarkable is a lot of that traditional ecological knowledge and wisdom that we’ve disconnected ourselves from, we’re now working very urgently to put back in practice.”