Yes, there is a Little Sur, and 1,200 acres of it are going back to the Esselen Tribe of Monterey County in the first-ever granting back of their lands.
The recent cultural conversations and statue topplings of Franciscan missionary Father Junipero Serra have rekindled the conversation over the genocide, enslavement, and land theft that were the ugly underbelly of the establishment of Spanish missions along the Pacific coast. One small modicum of justice was just enacted in that regard in Monterey Country, home to the Esselen Tribe for some 8,000 years prior to the 18th Century arrival of Spanish Catholic missionaries. That arrival decimated the Esselen population by an estimated 90 percent, and took their lands rights by a full 100 percent. But the Bay Area News Group reports that 1,200 acres of land are being returned to the Esselen Tribe of Monterey County.
“We are back after a 250-year absence — because in 1770 our people were taken to the missions,” Esselen Tribe chair Tom Little Bear Nason told Monterey County Weekly. “Now we are back home. We plan on keeping this land forever."
The 1,200 acres in question have been popularly known in modern times as Adler Ranch, some ten miles to the north of what we now call Andrew Molera State Park near Big Sur. According to the Esselen Tribe history page, Junipero Serra himself traveled to these lands to “to convert the Esselen to Catholicism,” which was code for “take the land for the Spanish king, Carlos III.” Generations of the Esselen people were not taught their own language or culture, and after the Mexican Revolution the lands were given to Mexican soldiers. The Esselin had been landless for centuries until now.
This deal has been in the works for a couple of years, after an Oregon-based group called the Western Rivers Conservancy bought the land from the Adler estate, only to transfer its ownership to the US Forest Service, and then facilitating the Esselen Tribe’s $4.5 million grant to buy the land back outright. The piece of land is a little larger than Golden Gate Park, and two square miles total.
Per the SFGate, the Esselen Tribe will share the land with surviving members of the Ohlone, Amah Mutsun, and Rumsen Tribes. No homes or businesses will be built there, but the area will be used for a sweat lodge, and other Native American cultural and educational facilities.
Image: AdamjVogt via Wikimedia Commons