YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, Calif. (AP) – The last Native American village in Yosemite Valley, destroyed 40 years ago, is being rebuilt in the same spot so that Miwuk Indian youths can learn about their culture.
Bill Tucker, who is Miwuk and Paiute, said the project is personal.
The 78-year-old Tucker lived in the village that was razed by the National Park Service in the 1960s and says the village "is home."
"I lived here with my grandma," Tucker told the Fresno Bee. "My first child was – she didn't make it – but it was in this house where my wife had the labor."
Archaeological evidence shows Native Americans living in Yosemite Valley for at least 7,000 years.
Yosemite's native community dwindled in the mid-1800s when a battalion of state militia shot, hanged or captured Native Americans and burned their villages. Some fled to the foothills or eastern Sierra and found a way to survive.
More recently, they worked service jobs, were basket weavers and performed traditional dances for park visitors.
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.
Reconstruction of the village started in 2009 and so far a roundhouse foundation has been built. The project was halted in 2011 because of safety concerns but construction resumed last year after the native community proved the traditional roundhouse met building codes.
It is not clear when the project will be completed.
Tourists will be able to visit the village, although some spiritual ceremonies may only be open to tribal members.
The aim of the village is "to continue our culture and educate our youth, that's really the bottom line. Educate our youth," native elder Les James told the newspaper.
Members of the American Indian Council of Mariposa County/Southern Sierra Miwuk Nation and now-retired Park Service employees asked for their village back in 1977 but it took the federal government four decades to approve it.
"It's our job as the National Park Service to preserve and protect the park and the resources," Yosemite spokesman Scott Gediman said. "But telling the cultural history and telling the story about the Native Americans is equally as important to our mission, not just for us as the National Park Service to tell the story, but to have the tribes and the tribal members tell the story."