The Esselen, along with members of four other tribes, were prohibited from speaking their native language or practicing their traditions, and men from each of the groups were separated from their families. The Mission System in California often saw Native Americans fall victim to corporal punishment, such as flogging, if they disobeyed rules, according to the California Missions Foundation.
The actions of the missionaries would eventually lead to 90 percent of the nearly 1,000 Esselen people to die of disease or other causes by the early 1800s, the Mercury News said.
The land that was purchased by the tribe was previously owned by a Swedish immigrant named Axel Adler, who died in 2004, the newspaper reported. The Western Rivers Conservancy planned to buy the land and transfer it to the U.S. Forest Service, but local residents were worried about an increase in tourist traffic and whether the service would be able to maintain the land.
Western Rivers then worked with the Esselen Tribe and received the $4.5 million grant from the California Natural Resources Agency to make the purchase.
“The property is spectacular, and on top of that it repatriates land to a tribe that has had a really hard go of it over the years,” Sue Doroff, president of the Western Rivers Conservancy, told Mercury News.
The Esselen Tribe, which has 214 members today, plans to build a sweat lodge and traditional village to educate the public about their culture.
"Getting this land back gives privacy to do our ceremonies," Nason said. "It gives us space and the ability to continue our culture without further interruption. This is forever, and in perpetuity, that we can hold on to our culture and our values."
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