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Our View: Nisenan, present and future

The Union Editorial Board

Lip service is easy, and costs you nothing.

The Nevada City Council does it at the start of every meeting — the Nisenan Tribe recognition. “This City Council meeting convenes on the ancestral territories of the Nevada City Rancheria Nisenan Tribe.”

It’s followed by the Pledge of Allegiance and roll call.

But now the council is doing something about it. It’s no longer just lip service, but instead a discussion at council level — serious discussion about giving land to the Nisenan that once belonged to them.

The reason is because the tribe must own property that once was part of its federally recognized lands to gain federal recognition. It’s a designation it lost decades ago, and has been trying to regain for years.

According to Nevada City Manager Sean Grayson, the city has been working with the nonprofit California Heritage: Indigenous Research Project to find some land next to the Nevada City Airport that will work.

Problem is, a piece of the airport land won’t work because it doesn’t qualify. To meet the criteria, the city is looking at working with nearby parcel owners. It would do a lot-line adjustment to take a small piece of property and then attach it to the airport parcel. Then officials would take that bit of land and give it to CHIRP.

And, once done, it won’t just be lips moving, but actions taken.

The Nisenan, through the efforts of its spokesperson, Shelly Covert, has cultivated great respect from western Nevada County residents. Many of us have come to the realization, if we didn’t already have it, that the Nisenan Tribe isn’t just a part of our history. It’s a part of our present and future as well.

For those wanting to learn more, check out the Nisenan’s ‘Uba Seo Gallery, 225 Broad St., Nevada City. Hours are noon to 5 p.m. today, noon to 5 p.m. June 10 to 12, and then 1 to 6 p.m. Thursdays and noon to 5 p.m. Saturdays.

Federal recognition strengthens Nevada County, regardless of your ancestry. It’s past time we stopped just talking about it, and did something.

Of course, there will be questions and concerns. Many people may think of casinos when the subject of federal recognition comes up. Covert has said that while the tribe is eager for that recognition, it would not build a casino if granted.

Then there’s the issue of obtaining the land, which as of last week remained in the very early stages. Covert said the city hasn’t yet approached landowners about the proposal.

Regardless of any other factors, this isn’t a project that will be completed quickly. There will be time for discussion, for public comment, and for the process to play out as it should — with input from everyone, and people properly compensated for any land that’s transferred.

The history of the Nisenan is written in the stones around us. It’s in the waters where they fished, and the trees that dot the landscape. Pursuing this land-back initiative isn’t merely a wise move for historical and tourism reasons, it’s the right moral and ethical move. It’s a move this county, and its residents, should support.

We can’t change the past, or how the Nisenan people were treated when settlers first arrived here. We can’t change the subsequent removal of their federal status, and the seemingly endless court actions that have followed.

But we can make a decision at this moment to support a project that is warranted. We can acknowledge the harm that was done, and work toward a better future, not just with a recognition at the start of a council meeting, but a federal recognition supported by real action from Nevada City and this county.

And those aren’t just empty words.

The weekly Our View editorial represents the consensus opinion of The Union Editorial Board, a group of editors and writers from The Union, as well as informed community members. Contact the board at EditBoard@TheUnion.com

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