August 31, 2011
Historic Agreement with Vallejo provides tribes permanent access to and oversight of sensitive locations.
The Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation and the Cortina Band of Wintun Indians have received California’s first-ever cultural easement to allow them to oversee the protection of sacred ancestral sites on public property. This historic use of a ‘cultural easement’ for the mutual benefit of local governments, citizens and tribal governments sets an important precedent and lays out a template for resolving similar situations in California and elsewhere.
The agreement to allow Yocha Dehe and Cortina access to and authority over sensitive ancestral sites within the proposed Glen Cove recreation area in the city of Vallejo was finalized July 21st. Approval came after several months of negotiation among the two tribal governments, the city, and the Greater Vallejo Recreational District (GVRD). The 15-acre park site overlooks the Carquinez Strait in the southern portion of Vallejo.
The cultural easement ends several years of dispute at Glen Cove and is permanently associated with the property, ensuring the two tribes can forever protect from discovery and desecration their ancestral village sites within the park’s boundaries. Plans to build new bathrooms on the site are also canceled under the agreement and a planned new parking lot will be reduced in size and relocated.
“This landmark agreement to create a cultural easement will allow us to protect the identity of sensitive sites and preserve them properly and respectfully,” the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation and Cortina Band of Wintun Indians wrote after the agreement was reached. “We are proud to accept this responsibility not only as descendants of the Native Americans who have lived here for thousands of years, but also as Californians who understand these sites are a part of all of our history here.”
Yocha Dehe and Cortina, both Patwin tribes, have been identified by California’s Native American Heritage Commission (NAHC) as the Most Likely Descendants (MLD) of the native people who once inhabited the Glen Cove area. California law provides MLDs a leading role in how sensitive sites are treated. State law now also enables tribal governments to hold a ‘cultural easement’, like the one agreed to here, to give them the legal right to access and oversee sacred sites on land owned by others. This is believed to be the first time an ‘easement’ has been granted by a government in California for this purpose and the first time one of the 109 federally recognized tribes in the state has been allowed limited jurisdiction and unsupervised access to a publically owned site.
“Native Americans across California and the United States have too often witnessed and been pained by the desecration and vandalism of the sacred sites of our ancestors,” the two tribes noted. “Thanks to the cooperation, dedication and hard work of so many people, this will not happen at Glen Cove.”