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Nevada City Council explores land back initiative for Nisenan

Nisenan tribal spokeswoman Shelly Covert at this week’s Nevada City Council meeting.
Photo: Elias Funez

Nevada City is taking steps to help the Nisenan Tribe achieve federal recognition by exploring ways to get a piece of land back into the Rancheria’s possession.

After Nevada City Manager Sean Grayson announced on Wednesday that November would be designated by the city as Nisenan Heritage Month, he added officials have been working with CHIRP to identify a parcel adjacent to the Nevada County Airport that may be amenable to the tribe’s needs.

“The Nisenan have been looking for ways to acquire a property that was once part of their federally recognized lands on the rancheria,” Grayson said. “That is a portion of the application to achieve federal recognition.”

Shelly Covert, spokeswoman for the Nevada City Rancheria and the executive director of the California Heritage Indigenous Research Project, said one particular challenge presented in her tribe’s drawn out attempt to regain federal recognition has to do with the fact that none of original parcel the tribe was first granted was still owned by current tribe members.

“They just need the tiniest little bit within the rancheria, allowing them to check a box saying we still hold some of those original trust lands,” Covert said, referring to the Nevada City Rancheria that was created in a 1913 executive order.

The recognition was officially terminated by Congress in 1964.

Grayson said at one point the city had direct ownership of the Nisenan’s former land as it was part of “the old airport land.”

The airport’s current configuration does not include any of that original parcel, Grayson said.

“It has to do with the division of sectors,” Grayson said, adding, “we couldn’t transfer a piece of our existing land to the Nisenan — we could, but it wouldn’t meet the criteria (for the federal recognition application).”

Grayson said, as an alternative, the city will work with adjacent parcel owners to do a “lot-line adjustment” to take a relatively small piece of land, attach it to the airport parcel, and then work with a city attorney to “parcelize” the piece and transfer it to CHIRP.

“It’s sounds convoluted, but I hope it won’t be too much more than that,” Grayson said.

Covert said she does not know the square footage of the final intended parcel.

“I suppose it will depend on what the city manager can accomplish with the property owners,” Covert said. “He hasn’t approached them as of yet.”

Rebecca O’Neil is a staff writer with The Union. She can be reached at roneil@theunion.com

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