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In California, Tribal Members Are Reclaiming the ‘Land of the Flowing Water’

U.S.In California, Tribal Members Are Reclaiming the ‘Land of the Flowing Water’

The vast territory known as the Owens Valley was home for centuries to Native Americans who lived along its rivers and creeks fed by snowmelt that cascaded down the eastern slopes of the Sierra Nevada.

Then came European settlers, and over time, tribe members lost access to nearly all of that land. Eventually, the water was lost, too: In the early 20th century, the developers of Los Angeles famously built a 226-mile-long aqueduct from Owens Lake to the city. It was this project, the story goes, that allowed Los Angeles to become the booming metropolis that it is today.

Less familiar is what happened to the Owens Valley, and the people who lived there, after most of the water was sent south. Owens Lake is now a patchwork of saline pools covered in pink crystals and wetlands studded with gravel mounds designed to catch dust. And today, the four recognized tribes in the area have less than 2,000 acres of reservation land, estimated Teri Red Owl, a local Native American leader.

But things are changing, tribal members say. They have recently reclaimed corners of the valley, buoyed by growing momentum across the country to return land to Indigenous stewardship, also known as the “Land Back” movement.

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