Decades after It was Destroyed, Yosemite’s Last Native American Village is Returning

Tribal elder Bill Tucker walks past a reconstructed umacha, a Native American dwelling made of cedar bark, at the Wahhoga village under construction in Yosemite Valley, Nov. 30, 2017.

Published December 17, 2017

Bill Tucker brushes pine needles from a flat, granite boulder to reveal bowl-shaped holes once used by his mother and grandmother to grind acorn and native plants for cooking.

“This is home!” the 78-year-old Miwuk and Paiute man says at the site of the last Native American village in Yosemite Valley, destroyed by the National Park Service by 1969.

Nearly half a century later, the village is being rebuilt.

The project is personal for Native elders like Tucker who once lived there and have remained near Yosemite.

Yosemite’s Native community dwindled after a battalion of state militia found the area in the mid-1800s while hunting for Native Americans believed to be living in a mountain stronghold. Villages were burned and Native Americans were shot, hung or captured. Others fled to the foothills or eastern Sierra. The Park Service today officially recognizes seven tribes as having traditional ties to Yosemite.

Some resilient Native Americans found a way to stay. Early on, many worked service jobs, weaved baskets and performed traditional dances for tourists. Their last village – 15 small cabins near the Camp 4 campground, just down the road from Yosemite Lodge – was gradually leveled as its inhabitants lost seasonal or full-time employment in the park. Those who retained employment were moved into housing elsewhere.

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