2015 marked the 30th Anniversary
of The Cultural Conservancy
TCC was incorporated as The Sacred Land Foundation in June 1985 through the efforts of Claire Cummings and Kimla McDonald. The organization was created to “collect, produce and disseminate information and educational material on sacred land for use by scholars, students and the general public, facilitate and fund research on sacred land, and promote the protection of sacred sites by assisting organizations concerned with specific places, or conservation organizations with interests in common with the Foundation."
We benefitted greatly from the participation and wisdom of many people in building the organization, and much of the initial work was informed by our work with individuals including Walter Echo-Hawk (Pawnee), Chris Peters (Pohlik-lah/Karuk), Mililani Trask (Hawaiian), Kalani English (Hawaiian) and Alejandro Argumedo (Quechua), all of whom served as Board members. Initial work included supporting Toby McLeod’s Sacred Land Film Project and sponsoring Mr. Ted Means, Oglala Lakota, as a delegate to address the International Council on Monuments and Sites 1987 conference on World Heritage Sites held in Washington DC.
In 1992 The Sacred Land Foundation (SLF) became The Cultural Conservancy (TCC). The change from SLF to TCC was an early instance of a conservation organization turning itself into a native-managed and -directed organization. Melissa K. Nelson (Turtle Mountain Chippewa) was hired as The Cultural Conservancy's first Native executive director in 1993.
In the first 20 years TCC accomplished many firsts, including the first cultural conservation easement created by Claire Cummings protecting a sacred site on private forest land in perpetuity, as well as supporting litigation to stop a ski resort on Mt. Shasta, California, and against telescope development of Mt. Graham in Arizona, as well as technical assistance to California Indian basket weavers, Pomo, Taos Pueblo, Zuni, Blackfeet, Camp Verde Apache, traditional Seminole, and other native communities.
Up to 1994, TCC's work revolved largely around supporting the sacred site legal work of Claire Cummings and providing technical assistance for many groups. Additionally, working with native Hawaiians to establish a land trust in Hana, Maui, Hawaii in the early 1990s led to the publication of Saving Native Lands, a handbook, which allowed us to provide many communities with guidance. This work continued to develop through alliances with native groups that grew out of a 1993 gathering entitled "The Commodification of the Sacred", one of the first gatherings to bring together concerned native leaders and alert native communities to the threats of biotechnology, genetic engineering, and intellectual property rights.
By the mid-1990s, Claire Cummings left the organization and TCC was working with a broad coalition of native and environmental groups and interest, including land trusts, international indigenous rights groups, local cultural organizations, and national parks, including the Presidio National Park, where we moved our offices in 1996. TCC became one of the first 20 nonprofit organization in the Thoreau Center for Sustainability in the Presidio. The Presidio provided a canvas for diverse efforts including restoration planning and site protection for Crissy Field and El Polin springs, advocating for Ohlone rights, sponsoring Ohlone and Aztec Dancers for Earth Day celebrations and Tibetan nuns for a Presidio blessing ceremony. We also presented many engaged public education forums on “Eco-Cultural Restoration,” “Re-Thinking Agriculture,” and “Saving Native Lands” for diverse groups such as the Society for Ecological Restoration, the National Parks Conservation Association, and Bioneers.
By 2000 we had significantly increased our work with local California Indian communities, including rural Tribes throughout the state, unrecognized tribes, native organizations, and urban Indian communities. Priorities shifted from direct land conservation to cultural preservation and revitalization of indigenous knowledge and oral traditions through media and education. We began a long-term relationship with the Southern Paiute Nation and through our Storyscape and Salt Song Trail projects, recorded and produced three documentary short films and a map about the the songs and trail depicted in the Nuwuvi Salt Songs. We also began our fruitful partnership with Bioneers, where we co-created and co-produced the yearly Indigenous Forum at their annual conference in collaboration with the Indigenous Environmental Network (2008 - 2014).
In the 21st Century, we have grown rapidly, and are once again expanding our international work in the Americas and the Pacific.