The Cultural Conservancy - History
|Photo Credit: Christopher McLeod|
2010 marks the 25th anniversary of The Cultural Conservancy, which was incorporated as The Sacred Land Foundation in June 1985 through the efforts of Claire Cummings. 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” according to the Articles of Incorporation.
Twenty-five years later, that purpose is still being served. Much of the early work was done by three people, all of whom are still involved with TCC. Melissa Nelson, Executive Director and President of the Board of Directors, and Kimla McDonald, Secretary of the Board, were two of the earliest participants in TCC, Kimla as a founding member and Melissa as a part-time intern beginning in 1993 who grew into our capable leader. We are grateful that Claire Cummings, whose vision and leadership were key in the formation and early programmatic work of TCC, continues to guide us as an advisor.
|Photo Credit: Melissa Nelson|
In the early days, we published articles about the organization in journals as diverse as Earth Island Journal, American Land Forum, and Shaman’s Drum. These articles prompted interested people from all over the country to write to us (using actual paper and stamps) and ask for more information about our organization. A membership drive invited participation and support, and resulted in unsolicited resumes and checks ranging from $1.00 to $1000.
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), a change that reflected our increasing efforts to form land trusts and help local native groups acquire land and property rights to project traditional land-based cultures. The change from SLF to TCC was an early instance of a conservation organization turning itself into a native managed and directed organization. We had 350 names on our mailing list.
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 written by Claire Cummings, 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.
|Photo Credit: Melissa Nelson|
TCC’s major accomplishments prior to 1994 revolved around supporting the sacred site legal work of Claire Cummings and providing technical assistance for these groups. In the first 20 years TCC has 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.
By the late 1990s, 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. The Presidio provided a canvas for diverse efforts including restoration planning and site protection for Crissy Field and El Polin springs, 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.” 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.
(Please see Resources and Programs for additional information on TCC History)