The crashing waves along the jagged Sonoma coastline near Stewart’s Point reverberated through the soul of Walter Antone. He heard the deep layers of years in each slap of wave against rock — the childhood he spent fishing along the cliffs with his father — and even father back when his ancestors would fish and gather abalone and mussels along the same cliffs.
“We’re from the coast,” Antone said, gazing out at the point where cliff gave way to water. “We’re coast Indians and we live off the ocean.”
Antone grew up not far away from the spot, on the 40 acre Kashia band of Pomo Indians reservation. By the time Antone was born, the Kashia had long been cut-off from their native coastal lands — a coastal tribe without access to the coast. As a boy, Antone’s father had to ask permission of the land owners to access the same cliffs which once fed his ancestors. These days, tribal members sometimes snuck through the fences in order to conduct traditional coming-of-age ceremonies.
“Made me feel shutout,” Antone said. “It’s land where we used to go before but now you can’t — we’re fenced off.”
But in a groundbreaking land sale, 700 acres of coastal lands will return soon to Kashia control for the first time in 200 years. Sonoma County leaders voted last week to pledge more than $2 million to a coalition of groups which have raised $6 million to purchase the one mile strip of coastal land from a private family, ensuring its future as open space.
“They’re a coastal people, but for generations they haven’t had access to the coast,” said Brendan Moriarty of the Trust For Public Land, which spearheaded the deal. “This property’s going to give them their coast back.”
The sprawling piece of land included groves of old redwoods, hilltop views, Native American archaeological sites and the precipitous cliffs opening up to the Pacific Ocean just north of Salt Point State Park. The deal will preserve the land as open space while giving the control to the Kashia who plan to preserve the land and return the forests to resiliency.
“We’re going to manage this forest to become an old growth forest,” said Kashia Tribal Chairman Reno Keoni Franklin. “I will see that in my lifetime.”
The deal will allow for public access with a trail running along the cliffs — also giving the Kashia a spectacular platform to tell the history of its people. The land’s original house will eventually become a museum.
“The general public come to portions of this land,” Franklin said. “Let’s let Kashia educate them instead of somebody else educate them about us.”
The one mile strip of land has been in Bill Richardson’s family since 1925. The original house and barn date back to 1885. Richardson’s family survived by raising sheep and cattle on the property. Richardson, who still resides in the house, grew up in the isolated paradise.
“It could be lonely, there’s a lot of places to roam,” Richardson said. “But I cherish it now, most people don’t get that opportunity to grow up here.”
But Richardson felt the time had come to finally return the family land back to its original family — the Kashia. The sales agreement reached with the coalition allows for Richardson to live out the rest of his life in the family home — and eventually be buried on the hilltop overlooking the sea, not far from the graves of his parents.
“I want to see it be a working ranch,” Richardson said, referring to its future with the Kashia, “just a beautiful place for everyone — especially for them.”
Antone regarded the wooden fence he and his father would scale to get to the fishing grounds. The slats of the fence were tired and worn and a sign reading ‘private property,’ was tattered with the elements. Antone inhaled the breeze carrying a perfume of sea, clutched his cane and let his eyes soak in the view.
“I feel like we got something back finally,” he said. “After all these years.”