The Coquille Indian Tribe in southern coastal Oregon purchased 3,200 ecologically and culturally significant acres of forestland in Oregon’s Siskiyou National Forest on May 21. They’ve named it Sek-wet-se, their people’s name for the river and their ancestors who lived there.
“Our ancestors have lived on these lands since time began,” said Coquille Chairwoman Brenda Meade. “Hunting, fishing, and traditional food gatherings are all abundant on this land. Coquille people will again be able to gather in these same places in the same ways as our grandparents before us. We will be able to utilize these places to teach our children their history and the importance of caring for these lands and its resources in a sustainable way.”
Ecotrust Forest Management purchased the property in 2006 and worked to restore it for an eventual transfer to the tribe, said Carolyn Holland, Ecotrust’s vice president of engagement. Their negotiations with the Coquille to acquire the land took six months.
Holland said working with Northwest tribal governments on the re-acquisition of traditional lands is a priority for Ecotrust. Ecotrust CDE is assisting the tribe with an infusion of New Markets Tax Credits to help finance the transaction, she said.
The forest was once part of 125 miles of Oregon coastline originally reserved for the Coquille and other tribes in an 1855 treaty. But the treaty was never ratified, and in 1954 Congress revoked the Coquille’s federal recognition during the now repudiated policies of the Termination Era.
The Coquille regained federal recognition in 1989, but not a land base. The tribe requested the return of 56,000 acres in an amendment to their Restoration Act in 1995 to address their self-sufficiency needs. They got 5,400 acres, restored to them under the Oregon Resources Conservation Act of 1996.
Unlike forests held in trust for and managed by federally recognized tribes, the Coquille’s forestlands, including this new acquisition, must additionally meet the standards and guidelines of adjacent federal forests under the Northwest Forest Plan. Their 5,400-acre forest has met all social, ecological and economic outputs of the plan.
“The Coquille people are a strong and tenacious people who never gave up even through assimilation and termination policies,” Meade said. She said that after regaining federal recognition, the Coquille Tribe wrote a self-sufficiency plan that spelled out their goal of achieving self-determination by becoming self-sufficient once again.
“Our elders believed that they had a sacred trust obligation to meet the needs of our current tribal members and future generations,” Meade said. “The priorities were then and still are today: To attain economic self-sufficiency, attain social self-sufficiency and attain self-determination through a strong and healthy tribal government that protects the sovereign rights of Coquille people, today and for future tribal members. We are unique in our cultural and historic heritage, and we must preserve that for all Coquille people.”
Today the Coquille Tribe provides housing, health care, education, elder care, law enforcement and judicial services to its more than 1,000 members. It is the second largest employer in Coos County, Oregon, with successful business ventures in forestry, arts and exhibits, gaming and hospitality, high-speed telecommunications, and renewable energy.