COOS BAY — The Coquille Indian Tribe has regained another piece of its ancestral heritage with a significant purchase of culturally-rich forestland in Curry County.
After six months of negotiations, a deal was finalized between the tribe and forestland investment and advisory services company Ecotrust Forest Management.
What resulted was the tribe acquiring 3,200 acres of land, which connects to the adjacent Grassy Knob Wilderness area and other U.S. Forest Service wilderness areas in the Siskiyou National Forest. Previously known as “the Sixes,” it has been re-named Sek-wet-se by the tribe, which refers to the appearance of the river at its mouth.
“This is the name of area being the river and the people who lived there,” explained Coquille Tribal Chairperson Brenda Meade. “When you're on the hill, looking at the mouth of the river it resembles a shinny stick — it looks like that — like the shape of the river.”
Besides its mix of timber, culturally significant plants, salmon, hunting and foraging habitat, the land was once part of the tribe's ancestral homeland and contains evidence of a cultural site at the confluence of Dry Creek and the Sixes River.
Coquille Tribal Chief Don Ivy said the purchase was not only an opportunity to regain control over lands that the tribe's ancestors once lived on but a chance for the tribe to explore and express cultural traditions that other current tribal lands don't satisfy.
“Where it's located represents a different aspect of our cultural heritage — not only in terms of geology, habitats, vegetation and the ecology of that place, but it's a piece that allows us to express more of that culture and our cultural traditions that other lands don't fulfill,” Ivy said.
While he noted the tribe's ongoing obligation to get back cultural lands, he also said that the newly-acquired property will be used partially to generate revenue in the form of timber sales.
Ecotrust Forest Management co-founder and CEO Bettina von Hagen said the Sek-wet-se is a unique property that will significantly benefit from the tribe's ecological forestry practices and commitment to riparian restoration.
“It's a very exciting transaction to be a part of — the tribe purchasing land that was part of their homeland, which will be able to have timber and ecological benefits,” von Hagen said. “It's a truly unique property and will significantly benefit from the tribe's ecological forestry practices and commitment to riparian restoration. It's a tremendous benefit for the land, the tribe and for the county.”
While this particular area also includes habitat for the northern spotted owl, marbled murrelet and other key species, it is known for its special importance to salmonids. In fact, Matt Swanson of the Curry County Soil and Water Conservation District noted in particular the importance of Dry Creek as a tributary to the Sixes River in regards to salmon production and water quality.
It was the Oregon Resources Conservation Act of 1996 that restored the 5,400-acre Coquille Forest in Coos County to the tribe. Besides being a federally recognized tribe under the National Indian Forest Resources Management Act, the Coquille Forest has also met social, ecological and economic expectations under the Northwest Forest Plan.
Currently, the Coquille Indian Tribe is the second largest employer in Coos County with more than 1,000 members and a land base of 7,043 acres.