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HOMECOMING: Tübatulabal Tribe and Community Celebrate Return to Ancestral Lands

Kern County Native American Tribe assume ownership of land in Weldon
Posted at 7:02 PM, Sep 20, 2023
and last updated 2023-09-21 12:51:13-04
  • Video shows the Kern River Valley Community celebrating land returning to the Tübatulabal Tribe. Members of the tribe discuss how this will allow them to preserve their culture and traditions.
  • On August 31 the Tübatulabal Tribe officially became the owners of roughly 1,200 acres of land in Weldon where evidence of habitation of their ancestors goes back thousands of years.
  • The land has a conservation easement on it which prohibits commercial development.
  • Tribe members say they will use the land to preserve their culture and provide education. They will also create hiking trails and open up parts of the land for the public to enjoy.

It was a years-long process for the Tübatulabal tribe to take ownership of nearly 1200 acres of land in Weldon. Moving forward there is more work that needs to be done, but on Saturday it was a chance for everyone to take a step back from the work, and simply celebrate.

“It's all coming back in a good way. Conservation and Tribal Heritage. It’s wonderful, happy, these tears are of joy,” Tübatulabal Tribe Member Donna Miranda-Begay told me.

Chair of the Tribe Robert Gomez handed out walking sticks made by Miranda-Begay to those that helped in the process, mentioning Peter Colby of the Western Rivers Conservancy, the Sierra Nevada Conservancy, the Western Conservancy Board and more.

The celebration is a far cry from how Native Americans have historically been treated in the Kern River Valley.

“My great grandfather Seven Miranda was the Chief of our Tribe and he was only about twelve years old when the 1863 massacre occurred over here in the Kern Valley area,” Miranda-Begay remembers.

The event featured songs and dances performed by various native groups brought together members from different tribes, conservationists, and the Kern River Valley Community, none of which are mutually exclusive.

“I came over here to see our relatives and our cousins get their land back, that's what we are here celebrating, the unity that comes along with the land management and taking care of it,” said Johnny Nieto of the Tule River Yokuts Tribe.

With the land, the promise of better preserving traditions of the tribe, like basket weaving.

“I am here today very happy to be here with the Tübatulabalpeople as they are celebrating the land back. The Wukchumni Tribe was able to present this beautiful basket here as a basket back,” Darlene Franco said.

The Wukchumni tribe was gifted a woven basket with the hopes they could return it to the tribe that originally wove it.

“I was able to look at it, pray over it, I saw some of the materials on here were probably materials used here with the Tübatulabal people,” Franco explained.

“Looking at the basket I can see a watersnake. The basket weaver probably went to the spring that morning preparing to make a basket on her journey to go gather water, she comes across the water snake so she puts this in the basket,” Samantha Riding Red Horse of the Tübatulabal elaborated.

Basket weaving is a strong tradition in the Tübatulabal tribe.

“It's been a lost art but we are bringing it back, when we weave we don't have ugly thoughts, we have good thoughts. I put good things in that cradle basket to make sure the newborn is proud of where he or she comes from.”

Pride of their history and culture -– something the Tübatulabal hopes to spread.

“I think it's so critical and important for folks to understand the importance of it and its sacredness. This land holds such wonderful natural resources, everything from the water, the wetlands to the forest.,” Miranda-Begay said.

“How can you not be spiritual looking at the land?” Red Riding Horse says.

The land has a conservation easement on it meaning it can’t be developed for commercial purposes.

“Bringing back out ceremonies is so important. To think about having maybe our first bear dance here,” Miranda Begay told me.

The day was a mixture of looking toward the exciting possibilities of the future, and honoring the past. Miranda Begay, thinking of her grandfather that lived through the Keyesville massacre.

“I can only imagine that his spirit is with us today, and his people that endured such hardship would be so proud of how far we’ve come.”

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