"The Penobscot Nation's record of caring for nature while still using it — hunting moose and duck while keeping their populations steady, selectively harvesting timber to preserve forests and restoring rivers to support fisheries — inspired an effort to return a 31,000-acre tract of forested land to tribal ownership. Late last year, the Trust for Public Land, a conservation group, bought the parcel from an industrial timber company, and it announced it would give the land to the tribe once it pays off $32 million in loans. Called Wáhsehtəkʷ by the Penobscot, which means east branch of the river (and is pronounced WAH-seh-teg). It's the largest contiguous tract that the tribe will have acquired in more than four decades.

"The transfer is part of a movement to return lands to Indigenous stewardship and work with tribal communities to protect biodiversity. The hope is both to restore justice for tribes that were long ago stripped of their ancestral homelands and to learn from long-standing Indigenous practices new ways to save a beleaguered planet. The pending land return in Maine, or 'rematriation' as some Indigenous people call it, stands out because of its scale — many previous land returns in the eastern United States have been on the order of hundreds of acres — and because the Penobscot will decide how the land will be managed.

"This is a significant change. For most of the past two centuries, Western conservationists have largely ignored Indigenous people's knowledge of landscapes and wildlife, along with tribes' historic claims to the land. But that is no longer tenable. Worldwide, Indigenous-managed lands host 80 percent of the world's biodiversity, by some estimates, and encompass much of the world's remaining intact forests, savannas and marshes. If environmentalists and political leaders hope to conserve more natural landscapes, including carbon sinks and critical buffer ecosystems such as wetlands that can protect against the harms of climate change, collaboration with tribal nation leaders is critical.

Read the full article about Indigenous land by Heather Close at The Rural Blog.