Esselen Tribal Group Stewards Ancestral Lands in Carmel Valley
by Carie Thompson
on February 6, 2024

I had the great privilege of spending a day with the Esselen tribe of Monterey County recently at Rana Creek Ranch in Carmel Valley. This beautiful 14,100 ranch was purchased by the Wildlands Conservancy last year. The ranch has the most gorgeous oaks I’ve ever seen, but more importantly, it is also the first land the Esselen tribe can call their own.

This is a game changer for the tribe, who are doing restoration work, co-managing five of the Monterey County State Parks, creating curriculum for classrooms, connecting tribal members to land and ceremony, and consulting on development projects to protect their ancestral resources (all without compensation). That’s a lot for an organization with one paid employee!

Our visit last week was part of a year-long learning journey called “Walking the Path of Right Relations.” We are participating with a group of conservation professionals from the Monterey Bay area and beyond, including the Big Sur land Trust, the Monterey Bay Aquarium, the Ventana Wilderness Alliance, and the Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History. The goal of this learning experience is for our conservation cohort to learn how to better support our partner tribes in meaningful ways, and to not unintentionally do harm. As landowners and managers, Land Trusts are in a unique position to work with tribes on accessing tribal lands and aiding them in accomplishing their goals.

During this journey we met with tribal elders in our area. We have learned so much! And we have been changed in profound ways. I liken it to learning a new language. You aren’t just learning words and sentence structure; you are learning a new way of thinking. What a gift.

During our day with the Esselen tribe we listened to stories, learned about their history and culture, as well as their wins and challenges as a tribal organization. At the end of the day, we asked what actions we could take to support them. They identified the following needs:

  • Experienced conservation professionals and legal professionals to share their expertise and help with charters, MOU’s, and other administrative or regulatory taks.
  • Desks, computers, bookshelves, and filing systems for their new office

We would like to help with these immediate needs. If you have a good computer, desk, chair, or bookcase you no longer need, please contact Carie.thompson@landtrustsantacruz.org. Thank you!

Click here to learn more about the Esselen Tribe of Monterey County