Nisenan Cultural Reclamation Corridor and New Tribute Trail Segment

In 2018, The Sierra Fund enabled the acquisition of 32-acres of ancestral homeland along Deer Creek for the California Heritage: Indigenous Research Project (CHIRP), the nonprofit serving the Nevada City Rancheria Nisenan. This $600,000 land transaction was funded by a grant from the California Natural Resources Agency (CNRA) for which The Sierra Fund was the grantee. In 2019 The Sierra Fund acquired another grant from CNRA to implement on-the-ground activities that support revitalization of Nisenan culture at the site, which is the location of the former Champion Mine. This transfer of property was the first time since the California Rancheria Termination Act of 1958 that this Tribe has had privately-owned access to a piece of their ancestral homelands along Angkula Seo, or Deer Creek. The land will be used for Nisenan cultural revitalization practices, community education and kept as open space for local wildlife. Part of this project is to build a new segment of the Deer Creek Tribute Trail across the property.

Nisenan Tribal members at the Deer Creek Tribute Trail bridge

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Cultural Background: For thousands of years prior to European contact, the Nisenan thrived alongside the flora and fauna of their ancestral lands. Living in small tribes near rivers and streams, Nisenan language, culture, and story of life flows with the water of the Sierra Nevada.

The connection between the Nisenan and the land was brutally severed with the onset of the Gold Rush. The Nisenan ancestral lands along the region’s waterways were logical and attractive locations for gold camps and were quickly appropriated. Tribal elders have estimated that in the 1850’s, at the onset of the Gold Rush, 13,000 Nisenan were living in what is now Nevada County, California. This population was quickly annihilated.

In 1867, the relatively few Nisenan that survived attempted to band together on a land allotment on Cement Hill outside of Nevada City. Within 25 years, in 1913, the land allotment was converted by executive order into Federal Trust Land and the Tribal government became federally recognized as the Nevada City Rancheria. Unfortunately, federally recognized status was short-lived – the Nisenan’s land and federal status was terminated in 1964 pursuant to the Rancheria Act of 1958.

Site Background: For nearly 170 years following Nisenan displacement, the 32-acre parcel of land along Deer Creek has lacked stewardship. In the 1850s the land was appropriated by miners in search of gold. Extensive hard rock mining, notably the Champion Mine (1911) followed.

The Champion Mine Complex includes the historic Providence and Champion Mines and was one of the foremost hard rock mines in Nevada County. Between 1851-1919 approximately $20 million in gold was recovered from the mine. The area was mined with one of the most advanced ore processing facilities in California at the time and was the site of the first chlorination works in the country.

The land was later acquired by a timber company (1968) and finally by a private developer (2005). Presently, mining contaminants are exposed, forests are overgrown, and transient encampments litter the riparian corridor.


The Sierra Fund is working with CHIRP to:

  • Develop a replicable Nisenan Cultural Land Management Plan (NCLMP) for forest and riparian ecosystems.
  • Coordinate with Bear Yuba Land Trust to plan for and build a public trail across the CHIRP-owned Nisenan Cultural Reclamation Corridor (NCRC) property as part of the beloved local Deer Creek Tribute Trail (DCTT) system.
  • Build fences to keep the public and members of the tribe out of mining contaminated “hot spots” to prevent exposure
  • Develop a plan to remediate mine features found on the property over the long run.

Nisenan Cultural Land Management Plan: Management of the land is an important step in the stabilization, restoration, and protection of Nisenan culture because it reconnects Tribal descendants with their ancestral waters and landscapes. The Nisenan Cultrual Land Management Plan (NCLMP) will guide land-use planning and implementation activities. The NCLMP will integrate existing information (trail easement, chemical/physical mine hazards, natural resources, cultural features) with future plans (built infrastructure, communal gathering spot(s), harvest locations).

The Nisenan significantly shaped the landscape where they lived using practices such as selective thinning, preferential seeding, and fire, informed by thousands of years of familiarity with local ecosystems. These practices were so successful that the landscape they tended supplied all the sustenance, fibers, and medicines the Nisenan required. This project relies on the cultural memory of the Nisenan for land-based activities at the Nisenan Cultural Reclamation Corridor (NCRC) that will protect and restore natural resources including healthy forest and riparian ecosystems.

Trail Expansion at NCRC: The Deer Creek Tribute Trail (DCTT) was built over the last nine years with grant support from the CNRA River Parkways Program awarded to The Sierra Fund. The DCTT starts in downtown Nevada City and leads through a rural neighborhood and then terminates on previously inaccessible land owned by the Bureau of Land Management.

The overall trail system includes two bridges that cross Deer Creek. One bridge is dedicated to the Chinese pioneers that played a largely unrecognized role in the California Gold Rush. The other is dedicated to the Foothills Nisenan, the First Nation of this area. That bridge is directly upstream and contiguous to the parcel recently acquired by CHIRP.

A trail will be built across the Nisenan Cultural Reclamation Corridor (NCRC) property. The trail easement is held by the Bear Yuba Land Trust who will lead construction of the new segment, adding approximately 4,600 feet to the existing trail network, allowing users to access distal portions of the trail without using Champion Mine Road, a well-trafficked gravel road.

Multilingual Interpretational Signage: In developing multilingual (Nisenan/English) signage for the new trail segment at the Nisenan Cultural Reclamation Corridor (NCRC), CHIRP will work in the spirit of their mission to preserve, protect and perpetuate Nisenan culture. The Tribe will describe the NCRC in the words of the Nisenan, leveraging linguistics as touchstones to ancestral lands, and ensuring that the multifaceted meanings embedded in language are not lost. Signage will increase community education about the history of the Nevada City area by focusing on a highly important and less widely told story – the experience of the Tribe.

Project Funders and Partners

California Natural Resources Agency
Schwemm Family Foundation
California Heritage: Indigenous Research Project
Nevada City Rancheria Nisenan
Greater Champion Neighborhood Association
California Conservations Corps
Bear Yuba Land Trust
Hospitality House