Gomez on land acquisition by the Tubatulapal tribe: “The land feeds us, and the land takes care of us.”

Robert Gomez at the entrance to Kolokam. | Robert Gomez

The Tubatulabal Tribe, based in the Kern River Valley, has achieved a significant milestone as it has reclaimed ownership of approximately 1,240 acres of ancestral land.

Located northeast of Lake Isabella, this parcel was formerly part of the extensive Quarter-Circle-5 Ranch, covering a total area of ​​2,274 acres.

“The history of the tribe indicates that this is our original territory, the South Fork and North Fork of the Kern River. There are a lot of village sites under water now,” Robert Gomez, a Tubatulabal tribal leader, told The New York Times. Kern Valley Sun.

The Tubatulabal tribe has a long history along the Kern River. At one time, the Kern River Valley was home to an estimated 1,200 members of the Tobatulabal.

“The Kern River Valley was home to three distinct groups collectively called the Tubatulabal. The name Tubatulabal (which loosely translates to ‘pine-eaters’), reads the Tubatulabal tribe’s website. ‘The Tubatulabal people have always occupied the lower regions of the southern Sierra Nevada.’

The land acquisition represents the first time the Tubatulapal tribe has held ownership of local land since the large influx of European settlers in the 19th century.

“That was an area called Kolokam,” Gomez said. “One of my older teachers told me they used to call it ‘The Duck Place.’”

With help from the Western Rivers Conservancy, the California Wildlife Conservation Council and the Sierra Nevada Conservancy, the tribe began negotiations for the land in 2019, Gomez said.

Just over 2,000 acres were listed for sale by a local realtor. “We were always looking for land, of course, but we don’t have that kind of money,” Gomez said.

He said the land was zoned for development of “townhouses and subdivisions and things like that” until the Tubatulabal tribe got involved.

The land was conveyed as a concourse easement, meaning it cannot be developed for residential or most commercial purposes, so the tribe envisions plans for public access, such as fishing, hiking and other recreational activities.

“We’re going to try to restore the land to its original condition and do some fire abatement and maintenance and things like that, and some aggressive restoration of public access to the trails that go up to the elevated area through the land and things like that,” Gomez said.

“So we’re now looking for grants to help us in that regard. So I’m running around looking for money. And then maybe in the spring we’ll open it up to the public, with a grand public opening. But for now we’ll have a private ceremony for the tribe.”

Protecting the land is something the Tubatulapal tribe cares about as part of their belief system, Gomez said.

“It matches our beliefs regarding the Earth,” Gomez said.

Land has been a key element in how the Tubatulapal tribe has long coped, Gomez said.

“We believe that the Earth is our mother,” Gomez said.

“The Earth feeds us. The Earth takes care of us, the plants and animals. These things seem so far-fetched now, because we are in the 21st century but we all talk about Mother Nature and all Mother Nature takes care of us and Mother Nature destroys us and so on. We still believe that. Many Tribal people believe in the fact that things happen for a reason in nature and we should use this kind of guiding light, some kind of guide for many of the things we do.

The Tubatulabal organization currently has about 160 members, but Gomez said another 180 memberships are still pending.

The tribe is now setting its sights on recognition at the federal level, and expects to file paperwork with the Bureau of Indian Affairs by the end of 2023.

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