Maidu seek HEW building |

Maidu seek HEW building

The Tsi-Akim Maidu tribe is seeking control of the old HEW building in Nevada City as part of a major push to win federal recognition – and eventually, a reservation.

Tribal corporation Executive Director Don Ryberg was in Washington, D.C., Tuesday and continues today, seeking help in winning federal recognition for the tribe from California congressional members. Federal recognition would make the tribe eligible for economic grants, he said.

Members of the Native American group live in Nevada, Sierra and Plumas counties

The tribe also has sent a letter to the Nevada County Board of Supervisors asking the county to donate the land, but tribal leaders said they could buy or lease the property as well.

Sovereignty, or self-rule, would allow the tribe to manage itself as an independent nation on the 12-acre property along Willow Valley Road that used to house county offices and, originally, the old Nevada County Hospital.

How far that rule goes varies widely across the United States, depending on the area and the tribes, according to several Native American Web sites. It has resulted in casinos in California and other states, but Ryberg and board member Ed Kauppila said Tuesday a casino is not their intent.

“The tribe is trying to look for economic development in Nevada City and Nevada County,” Ryberg said. “We need some kind of a land base.”

The 145-member nonprofit tribe is proposing to renovate the run-down structure and open a low-cost, senior care facility; the property also would serve as a base of tribal operations, Ryberg said. The county abandoned the building about three years ago, and it has stood empty ever since.

County officials are getting ready to call for proposals for the land, and the local Maidu tribe is welcome to join the process, said Chief Information Officer Steve Monaghan, who also manages county buildings.

Last year, several developers sent in preliminary proposals for what they might do with the land – all of them envisioning mixed housing on the property – but the county has not acted on them, Monaghan said.

The original structures were built in 1860, and the complex operated as a hospital from 1861 until 1973, according to a study prepared for the county in 2007. Because it is the county’s first hospital and “a rare example of Spanish Colonial architecture in Nevada City,” the building “appears eligible for listing on the California Register” of Historic Places, according to the Historic Resource Study by DVP Associates in Berkeley.

It is surrounded by private housing. Neighboring homeowners told The Union last year they would prefer to see the property become more housing or a care facility that is quiet at night.

The Tsi-Akim tribe’s idea came from Kauppila, who said fellow board members “jumped on it” when he brought it up. Kaupilla knows the county has estimated the demolition of the old building would cost $2.25 million, and full renovation costs are predicted to reach $15 million.

The tribe would not tear the building down, but would strip it of toxic paint and asbestos that make it dangerous. That would cost $3 million alone, Kaupilla said.

“If we can get a commitment from the county, it will help with grants,” Kaupilla said. “We’re looking to lease it, buy it or get it as a gift.”

In the letter to the supervisors, Kauppila said “It would be honorable to return back to the tribe a small portion of their ancestral land as a secured tribal land base for a reservation.”

For the last 15 years, Ryberg has been re-establishing the tribe, which he said lived in Nevada, Placer, Yuba and El Dorado counties before the Gold Rush. A Maidu village existed on the banks of Deer Creek in what is now Nevada City, commemorated in a plaque and small monument erected in October 2008 at the new Robinson Plaza on Union Street.

Many tribe members fled to Plumas County when the Gold Rush began, where some remain, Ryberg said.

Others are spread out across Northern California.

“Hopefully, Nevada County and the community can support us on federal recognition,” Ryberg said.

To contact Senior Staff Writer Dave Moller, e-mail or call (530) 477-4237.

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