Where conservation efforts are gaining ground, they're often funded by cash from gambling and other enterprises. The Santa Clara Pueblo, for instance, owns and operates a hotel-casino, the Black Mesa Golf Club, and the Dreamcatcher Cinema in nearby Espanola. And of course some native people are as disconnected from the land as the typical American suburbanite, driving giant pickup trucks and killing the dark hours watching DVDs. Yet this is a culture that has lived close to the land for centuries and whose elders tell stories that reach into a time beyond the imagination of industrial civilization. There remains a faith among Native Americans that they can rediscover the ground where their ancestors knew how to talk to gods.
On a stretch of foggy coast 200 miles north of San Francisco, less than 2 percent of the original old-growth redwoods survived the relentless logging of a few decades ago. The trees did better than the native people, who were hunted and slaughtered in the exuberance following the mid-19th-century gold rush. Their land was eventually claimed by timber companies. Now the tribes that formed a consortium to protect the land are working together to steward and restore 3,900 acres of the Sinkyone wilderness along the Lost Coast—lost because Highway 1 is forced inland here by the rugged terrain. At Sinkyone they have established a precedent—an intertribal wilderness area where trees will never be commercially harvested again.
The ground underfoot is brown litter. The trees tower, and everything is shadow. For a long time the Lost Coast was lost to Europeans. Early Spaniards couldn't find a decent harbor and were beaten back by storms. Before settlers arrived, the Sinkyone Indians lined the valleys with villages, made redwood dugout canoes that featured carved lungs and hearts, and rode the waters hunting sea lions and other beasts. They saw the giant trees as fellow members of the community, the condor as a messenger from on high. The Sinkyone are a people who "fix the world" every year through a series of ceremonies. One of their stories is that the creator made the world and patted everything down, and then "bad men were not satisfied and tore it down, tore up the ocean banks, tore up the trees, tore down the mountains. Since that time we have had to sing and dance every year to make it right again," according to tribal beliefs.
Sally Bell was ten years old on the morning 150 years ago when white men came to her home near Needle Rock. They wiped out her family and cut out her baby sister's heart, which they tossed into the brush where Sally hid. "I didn't know what to do. I was so scared that I guess I just hid there a long time with my little sister's heart in my hands." When Sally's words were finally taken down in the late 1920s, the visiting anthropologist described her as "blind, senile, sees spirits in rafters."