The indigenous people of the Big Sur area of northern California have been a landless group for 250 years. Taken from their ancestral homelands by Spanish colonials and sent to three different missions to be converted to Catholicism, the already small Esselen Tribe of Monterey County was nearly decimated.
"The missionaries were here to save the souls of the heathens, as they called us," the official website of the Esselen Tribe states. "In this way they hoped to take the land for the Spanish king, Carols III. This had severe consequences for the Esselen and other tribes that called these mountains their home. There were four other tribes that were also affected by the missionary's efforts for salvation."
Prior to colonial invasion, the Esselen had inhabited the Santa Lucia Mountains and the Big Sur coast for 6,000 years. Now, they are taking back almost 1200 acres of that land, with the help of a $4.5 million grant from the California Natural Resources Agency.
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