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The Yurok Tribe in northern California has begun the process of reclaiming ‘O Rew, a 125-acre property with “cultural and ecological significance” to the tribe. 

The deal began with a memorandum of understanding (MOU), announced Tuesday, between the Yurok and conservation nonprofit Save The Redwoods League, along with the National Park Service and California State Parks. Under the MOU, the land will be transferred back into the Yurok’s possession and then co-managed by the four organizations — the first arrangement of its type, according to the tribe. 

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“On behalf of the Yurok people, I want to sincerely thank Save the Redwoods League for committing to repatriate this critical part of our homeland. Together, we are creating a new conservation model that recognizes the value of tribal land management,” Joseph L. James,  chairman of the Yurok Tribe said in a statement. “We are also appreciative of Redwood National and State Parks’ participation in this truly one-of-a-kind partnership.” 

Armando Quintero, director of California State Parks, called the collaboration a chance to forge additional actions that support Indigenous land management with state, federal and nonprofit resources. The agreement, which he called “historic” will provide “a pathway for the addition of Indigenous lands to the suite of values employed in co-managing and protecting Redwood National and State Parks lands for the enjoyment of public and Indigenous peoples in the region,” Quintero said. 

The land is scheduled to be transferred to the Yurok in 2026, after the completion of an ongoing restoration project centered on the Redwoods Gateway and Prairie Creek. Once restored, that site will become a southern gateway to Redwood National and State Parks, including one mile of new trails, interpretive exhibits and other visitor amenities. 

Tuesday’s announcement continues a surge of interest and support for the landback movement across Indian Country, including sites like ‘O Rew that serve as important parts of national, state, and now tribal tourism. 

Prior Tribal Business News reporting points to a similar arrangement in Maine, where the Trust for Public Land recently initiated the return of 31,000 acres to the Penobscot Nation in Maine. In addition to being the single-largest landback transaction yet completed in the United States’ history, that land deal will give the Penobscot control of a popular gateway to the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument. 

Areas like these provide recreation and tourism dollars for the tribal communities surrounding them, marking these acquisitions as economic boons as much as they are culturally or ecologically beneficial.

Redwoods National Park Superintendent Steve Mietz said the ‘O Rew property will serve as a “link” between lands improved by a wide-ranging Redwoods Rising watershed restoration collaboration and a bid to save the Redwood Creek Estuary further downstream.

“This action will deepen the relationship between Tribes and the  National Park Service,” Mietz said in a statement. “...[we’re]  healing the land while healing the relationships among all the people who inhabit this  magnificent forest.” 

Once that restoration is complete and the land is conveyed to the Yurok, the tribe plans to build a visitor center focused on the tribe’s history and living culture, as well as the “extraordinary natural, cultural, and recreational resources of the parks,” per the tribe’s statement. The tribe also plans to construct a traditional village at the site.  

The Save the Redwoods League purchased the property, also called Orick Mill, in 2013, and launched the restoration project in 2021 with help from the Yurok tribe and other partners. Originally, the plan was to transfer the land after the restoration to the National Parks Service, but instead the property will now be transferred to the Yurok. 

Sam Hodder, president and CEO of the Save the Redwoods League, said the group “celebrated” the opportunity to return the land to Yurok stewardship. 

“Today’s agreement starts the process of changing the narrative about how, by whom and for whom we steward natural lands,” Hodder said in a statement. “There’s a lot of important work to be done in the coming years to realize our shared vision. But the League and  our partners are fully committed, and we’re honored to collaborate with the Yurok Tribe, National Park Service and California State Parks to create a new model of shared environmental and recreational stewardship.”

About The Author
Chez Oxendine
Staff Writer
Chez Oxendine (Lumbee-Cheraw) is a staff writer for Tribal Business News. Based in Oklahoma, he focuses on broadband, Indigenous entrepreneurs, and federal policy. His journalism has been featured in Native News Online, Fort Gibson Times, Muskogee Phoenix, Baconian Magazine, and Oklahoma Magazine, among others.
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