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Tribes at odds over land in Yuba County

Eric Vodden
Special to The Union

Yuba County’s lease of land in a foothills park to a Maidu tribe was approved Tuesday over the objections of another tribe claiming an ancestral link to the property.

Supervisors voted 4-1 to support the lease arrangement with the Tsi Akim Maidu tribe for 2-1⁄2 acres of the 90-acre Sycamore Ranch Park on Highway 20 east of Marysville.

It comes in advance of an 11 a.m. event today at the park in which the lease is to be formally announced and visiting Tibetan monks will bless the land.

But members of the Nevada City Rancheria of the Nisenan Indians of the Sierra Foothills said the lease is inappropriate because the land is not native to the Maidus. Instead, they said, Yuba County, including the park, is within the tribal lands of the Nisenan.

“We do not believe the Tsi Akim should be given the right to build an indigenous center on our tribal land,” said Shelly Covert, tribal secretary of the Nevada City-based Nisenan. “The land is not being returned to them. This is improper because the land was never in their tribal area.”

Tsi Akim Maidu chairman Don Ryberg could not be reached Tuesday afternoon for comment.

The five-year, $1-a-year lease will give the Tsi Akim control over 2-1⁄2 acres near the entrance to the park. The property is seen as being the possible future site of a Native American cultural or interpretive center.

Supervisors Mary Jane Griego, Andy Vasquez, John Nicoletti and Randy Fletcher approved the lease, while Supervisor Roger Abe objected.

Griego and Fletcher were also named to an ad hoc committee to discuss how to include Nisenan representatives in future plans to preserve the Native American culture.

Abe said he would have preferred to wait until the tribes could discuss the issue before approving the lease.

“I don’t know why we didn’t wait a couple of weeks, and let them all talk and work together,” he said after the meeting. “If these people aren’t willing to work together, I am not sure we want any of them.”

Nicoletti noted the Tsi Akim tribe has held Indigenous Peoples Day ceremonies at the park since it was acquired by Yuba County in 2010.

He said the intent of the lease is to provide a way to preserve local Native American culture.

“We have had a number of events down here that have never included your tribe,” Nicoletti told the Nisenan representatives.

Fletcher said he saw the appearance of the Nisenan representatives as a way to be included in the preservation of Native American culture. The park is in his district.

“There are opportunities here for the tribes to get together,” Fletcher said. “Why not work together to educate the public, not just the board?”

Griego said, that as a member of the ad hoc committee, she would be willing to meet with Nisenan tribal members.

“This lease is not about defending territory,” she said. “We are not saying who was there first.”

Griego noted the county will still have oversight over the terms of the lease. Both the tribe and the county have the right to terminate the lease with 90-day notice.

Covert said the Sycamore Ranch Park site “lies deep within Nisenan ancestral territories” and that documentation shows Nisenan people living in that area as early as 1860 and as late as 1930.

At the same time, she said while the Tsi Akim nonprofit corporation is in Grass Valley, its tribe is indigenous to Plumas County. She said the 1,500-person village referred to earlier were Nisenan Indians, not Tsi Akim Maidu.

“I find it disturbing that these numbers are being used to somehow further this land grab for the Tsi Akim, who hail from Plumas County,” Covert’s letter said.

Eric Vodden is a reporter with the Marysville Appeal-Democrat.


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