Land Tenure History of the South Fork Tule River watershed

The term “land tenure” refers to the conditions under which land is held or occupied.

The S. Fork Tule River originates in the Giant Sequoia National Monument and flows west through the Tule River Indian Reservation.

The original people that “held or occupied” the land within the South Fork Tule River are the Yokuts People. Today, the U.S. Forest Service manages the upper portion of the South Fork Tule River watershed, which falls under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.  The USDA is responsible for developing and executing federal government policy on farming, agriculture, forestry, and food, which includes the management and protection of natural resources. In 2000, President Clinton established the Sequoia National monument from a portion of Sequoia National Forest that contained old-growth giant sequoia groves. Establishment of this monument allowed for permanent protection of the giant sequoia groves, as well as provided protection for all the land and resources contained within the monument. The southern section of the monument surrounds the eastern half of the Tule River Indian Reservation. The Tule River Tribe manages the reservation land within the watershed.

As a domestic sovereign, the Tule River Tribe has an inherent responsibility to provide for the welfare of its tribal members. The Tribe has an established need to protect and preserve the reservation and to provide for the cultural, economic, and self-determination needs of its members in a manner consistent with tribal practices. This responsibility includes establishment of governmental jurisdiction over ancestral land. As one of the first reservations to be established in California, the Tule River tribe has essentially had continuous management of their ancestral land since before European contact, which hasn’t been the case for the majority of tribal nations in the United States, and California in particular….

The U.S. government’s policy concerning negotiations with the tribes of California were fundamentally different from the rest of the tribes in the United States. The U.S.’s policy of moving the Indigenous people “out west” to the lands that no one wanted, could no longer be enacted because there was no land further west that they could be moved to. When California was ceded to United States in 1849, the gold rush was in full swing. The influx of settlers in the region brought greed, disease, and genocide to the Indigenous Peoples. The lawlessness of “the West” allowed for the eradication of the Native Peoples with no legal repercussions. Settlers who were hungry for gold, justified by manifest destiny, had no qualms when it came to the extermination of the Indigenous Peoples of California. During this time, the U.S. government negotiated a series of 18 treaties with the major tribal leaders of California, including the Yokuts, that promised provisions including cattle and extensive tracts of valuable land for reservations totaling 7,466,000 acres. After vigorous opposition, the Senate refused to ratify the 18 treaties and ordered them filed under an injunction of secrecy, which was not removed until years later, leaving the tribes of California without a land base.

Giant sequoia tree section at the entrance of the Tule River Indian Reservation

The first reservation established in California was at Ft. Tejon in 1854 at the base of the Tehachapi Mountains. When the Tejon Reservation failed to prosper, the Native peoples were moved, in 1856, to an area east of the City of Porterville along the Tule River, which was referred to as the “Tule River Farm”. In 1860, Thomas Madden, an Indian service employee, fraudulently gained personal title to the Tule River Farm using state school warrants. The federal government then had to rent the Tule River Farm, paying Madden $1,000 per year. Not wanting to pay that exuberant amount in rent to Madden, the present day Tule River Indian Reservation was established in the South Fork Tule River watershed by executive order of President Ulysses S. Grant on January 9, 1873. The reservation was later enlarged by another executive order on October 3, 1873 to include land from the middle fork Tule river watershed totaling 91,837 acres. Four small settler families, who had land claims within the middle fork watershed, complained that the Native People were causing trouble and wanted the government to pay them to move off their land. As a result the government reduced the reservation back to it’s original size in 1878, which did not include these land claims.


Advertisement after Dawes Act offering up Indian Land. 

In 1887, the U.S. federal government passed the Dawes Act, or General Allotment Act. This policy was aimed at assimilating the Native People into the dominant society by dissolving reservations and communal land ownership. The act allowed for the dividing of reservations into individual 160-acre allotments, to be given to each head of household. Any “surplus” lands were open to non-Indian settlement, and as a result, Native Americans lost approximately 90 million acres of land to settlers. This act had a devastating effect on Native People across the United States, whose social structure does not work with the concept of individual ownership of land. The act was later repealed in 1934 by the Indian Reorganization Act, which allowed for tribal self-government. The Tule River Tribe actively rejected the Dawes Act and continued to manage the land and pay property taxes collectively, and as a result did not suffer a loss to their land base.

Today, the Tule River Tribe manages the land through a blend of traditional and western land management techniques, which include fire management and invasive weed control. The Tule River Tribe is part of the greater community of California concerned with the quality of our environment and is an active member of the California Invasive Plant Council, whose mission is to stop the spread of invasive plants, protect wild lands, and support climate adaptation.Through land management and stewardship, the Tule River Tribe has expressed their inherent sovereignty by fighting to maintain control of their ancestral land and culture. By reclaiming that basic knowledge of what plants and other natural resources are on the reservation, the Tule River Tribe can continue to assert their autonomy over their ancestral land. It is my intention to help facilitate this by establishing a herbarium for the Tule River Tribe for future land management purposes.


Chapter Winter Program on February 6, 2016

Come check out my floristic work in the Southern Sierra Nevada

Alta Peak Chapter ❖ California Native Plant Society

“A Botanical Exploration of the Tule River South Fork Watershed”
presented by Jessica Orozco, graduate student in botany at Claremont Graduate University

February 6, 2016 at 7 pm,
Doors open at 6:30 pm for meet and greet time

Springville Veterans Memorial Building on Highway 190 in Springville
Link to map for location.

Tule River Drainage © Jessica Orozco[photo © Jessica Orozco]

Jessica Orozco has spent the past three years exploring the area south of Springville, within the drainage of the South Fork of the Tule River, including the Tule River Indian Reservation, carefully documenting her wanderings and vegetation surveys with color slides. The Tule River Indian Reservation was established in its current location in 1873 in the ancestral land of the Yaundachi Yokuts people of the Central Valley. Leaders of the Tribe, and those responsible for managing these tribal lands, have offered Orozco support as she has surveyed the area as they understand…

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Update on the Flora of the South Fork Tule River Watershed

Okay, after a year hiatus I’m back blogging again! And expect more to come, now that I’m in the writing stage for my project, so stay tuned! For my master’s thesis, I am conducting a floristic study of the South Fork Tule River watershed located in the Southern Sierra Nevada in Tulare County, California. Floristics is the study of the distribution, number, and diversity of all plant species in a given area. The plant collections generated from such studies are important because they represent a “snapshot” of what the flora looked liked at that moment in time.

View of the Canyon of the South Fork Tule River from the Mule Peak lookout on the Sequoia National Forest.
Map of the Tule River Indian Reservation in relation to the rest of California. The reservation is located in Tulare county, near Springville, Ca.

A watershed is an area of land in which all the water from rain, underground springs, and snow melt is drained into a central place. I have used the boundary of the South Fork Tule River watershed as the boundary for my floristic study. The South Fork Tule River is part of a larger Tule River system that contains a North, Middle and South Forks. The South Fork Tule River and its tributaries, drain west through the Tule River Indian Reservation, down through private land where it is diverted for agriculture. Any remaining water flows into Lake Success, which is located on the branch of the Tule River about six miles east of Porterville. The Watershed encompasses 64,756 acres and the Tule River Indian Reservation occupies the majority of the watershed. Due to the historical exploitation of tribes from scientists and anthropologists, access to tribal trust lands in California for the purposes of field research, has been limited. It is my hope to use this floristic study to bring awareness to the need for more ethical collaboration between tribes and botanists to work together with the common goal of plant conservation.

A herbarium specimen of Erythronium pusaterii, the final product of floristic plant collections. Herbarium collections represent the majority of data collected in floristic studies.

The objectives of my study are: 1) Document all plant species that occur within the watershed. 2) Create a checklist of the plant species. 3) Assess the status of rare plant species. 4) Create a reference herbarium for the Tule River Indian Reservation. A herbarium is a botanical archive that houses plant collections that represent and document plant diversity in nature. These plant collections serve as important resources for scientific research and education in plant taxonomy, conservation, ecology and genetics. Plant collections as old as one hundred years old can still be used for DNA extraction for scientific purposes.

I began this project in spring 2013, and have spent 63 days in the field. Prior to my study, 264 collections had been made from South Fork Tule River watershed with only 57 from the reservation. Poorly documented plant diversity on tribal trust lands such as the Tule River Indian Reservation, speaks to the need for more collaboration between Native American communities and botanists.

Oreostemma alpigenum a member of the Asteraceae (Sunflower family). This species was found in most the the high elevation meadows within the South Fork Tule River watershed

Thus far I have collected 1355 specimens, representing 561 different species across 75 families, with the Asteraceae (Sunflower family) being the most represented with 47 different species. The genus most represented is Lupinus with 12 different species. While tribal trust land makes up only 1% of the total land area in California, these lands are often rugged and relatively unexplored. It is my hope that through my research, I will be able to foster relationships between the Native and scientific communities that will compel them to come together to work ethically and effectively to achieve the common goal of plant conservation.

Cultural Values through Tradition

Ya’at’eeh everyone!! As we begin the month of October here in the four corners region, I am reminded that my time here is limited…I only have a few days left! In an effort to share more of my adventures with you all, I will posting more blogs after I return home, so stay tuned.

Arnold Clifford, Navajo Botanist/Geologist talking about Navajo Culture with members of the Northern Dine’ Youth Committee.

I have been very fortunate in my time here to have visited many places sacred to the Navajo People. I was able to visit Dzil Na’oodilii, central sacred mountain, not once, but twice! The first time was with members of the Northern Dine’ Youth Committee, and the second time was with the Shiprock Historical Society. Each time I went I learned something new.

With members of the Shiprock Historical Society at the central sacred mountain.

In the Navajo Creation story, the holy people placed the Dine’ people on the land between the four sacred mountains, represented by the 4 cardinal directions. These mountains mark the boundaries of the Navajo’s ancestral land. There is also a set of inner mountains within the borders of this land that are considered sacred, including Dzil Na’oodilii, the central sacred mountain.

View from the Central Sacred Mountain

Dzil Na’oodilii, or Huerfano Mesa (the spanish name) is important to the Dine’ because it was where Changing Woman, a central character/deity in the Dine’ creation story, was found as a baby by Talking God. Talking God didn’t know what to do with her at first, so the twin Nadleeh (hermaphrodites) helped in the raising of Changing Woman and feed her corn pollen and she matured in 3 days. On the fourth day she had her puberty rights ceremony, her Kinaaldá . After Changing Woman’s initiation into womanhood was complete, the Kinaaldá ceremony was established  for all future Navajo women for all of time. Soon after she became impregnated by the Sun and gave birth to the Hero Twins. Dzil Na’oodilii is where Changing Woman raised the Hero Twins, and lived in the first Hogan. Many consider the mountain to be the “lungs” of Navajo country.

An old Juniper tree, on the cliffs of Dzil Na’oodilii, with the view of Navajo country in the background.

I was also here in time for the Northern Navajo Fair/Shiprock fair. The Northern Navajo Fair is a tradition where many Navajo People, far and wide, come to participate and connect with the culture and people. The Shiprock fair is truly a site to behold, where up to 100,000 people come to partake in the festivities.

Tom Chee’s float at the 103rd Shiprock Fair
The menu at the Dibe biccino tent at the Northern Navajo Fair. Dibe Biccino is a Native-owned and operated traveling coffee shop coming out of Flagstaff, Ariz.

Along with a Midway, parade, rodeo and food stands, like Dibe’ biccino,There is also an arts and crafts exhibit, where students from schools on the reservation can enter their art. I was fortunate enough to work with the kids from Dream Dine Charter School, a Dine’ immersion school, to help the students create their own herbarium specimensThe students went out and collected their own plants, and then put both the scientific name, and the name in Dine’. Many of them even won ribbons for their art pieces.

Dream Dine’s exhibit at the Northern Navajo Fair. Dream Diné is a school where Diné (Navajo) culture, philosophy, language and history are the heart of a community-based, experiential curriculum.

This is also the time of year when the Yei Bi chei ceremony takes place, and I was honored to be able to participate. The Yei Bi Chei ceremony, also known as the “nightway chant” is a 9 day and night healing ceremony. During these ceremonies, the dancers take on the role of intermediaries between the gods and the human race. The Yei (dancers) dance and chant songs that are believed to bring healing to the patient. A sand painting is also constructed in the Hogan where the ceremony is taking place, under the direction of the practitioner (Medicine Man) and their assistants. The sand paintings can be as large as 8×8 ft or larger. The sand paintings are made of different color, finely ground sand that is pinched between the fingers and sprinkled in specific designs. Each color and shape has significance in the healing of the patient. The Ye’i Bi Chei, also called Winter Gods and Grandfather Spirits, are the main focus of healing in these ceremonies, and they also begin the “ceremony season” in the fall and early winter.

Artwork used in the 100th Annual Shiprock fair, depicting part of the Yei bi Chei. Artwork by James King.

I am truly grateful for my time out here on the Navajo Reservation, and for all that I have learned. I hope to take this knowledge back with me to help inform and broaden my perspective, so that I can encourage more Indigenous people to pursue careers in science. Ahéhee’ (thank you in Dine’)

Picture of the Author (Jessica Orozco) and Former Miss Navajo Radmilla Cody at the 103rd Shiprock Fair

All Over the Four Corners in a Day

Hello from the Four Corners! I’ve been out here in the Southwest for almost 6 weeks and have seen many natural wonders, but best by far was my trip to the Hanging Gardens and Monument Valley. What is a hanging garden you ask? Well, just the coolest vegetation type in the southwest! In an arid landscape such as the Colorado Plateu, hanging gardens represent “a boreal oasis in the midst of a Sonoran desert” (Alice Eastwood, 1896)

There are three levels to this Hanging Garden near Bluff, UT

Hanging gardens are associated with sandstone formations, and it is the erosion of the stratified sedimentary rocks and concurrent entrenchment of the river system into those strata that have exposed the water-bearing sandstones . The vegetation type that characterizes hanging gardens is considered mesic and is created when water is available continuously through cracks and crevices of rock. Water percolating through the porus sandstone, contacts the impervious stratum below it, accumulates, and finally, flows laterally along the impermeable stratum until it reaches the edge of the member, or is exposed along a sandstone cliff. Where this exposed water accumulates, so do the plants.

Facing wall of a hanging garden near Bluff, UT

The Plant communities associated with Hanging Gardens differ in composition and kinds of species. Although the process of creating these hanging gardens is dynamic, and structurally differing in forms, the most common form is the Alcove-type. In general, alcove-like hanging gardens contain three types of surfaces for plants to grow, the hanging wall, the face wall, and the foot wall.

View from inside an Alcove-type hanging garden, showing the hanging wall, face wall, and foot wall.

The hanging wall will be well developed, and provides shade for the alcove during the day. The face wall will be arching in both the horizontal and vertical plane, or nearly perpendicular. Plants residing here are considered ‘clingers’ and are usually some of the following species: Primula specuicola, Mimulsu eastwoodiae, Adiantum capillus-veneris, Petrophytum caespitosum. Lobelia cardinalis, M. cardinalis, Dodecatheon pulchellum and Zigadenus vaginatus.

Oenothera longissima, with the vertical and foot wall in the background

The foot wall is below the angle of repose and is usually covered by detrital colluvium that is constantly moist. Many common riparian and mesic species can be found here including: Calamagrostis scopulorum, Muhlenbergia curtifolia, M. andina, Carex bicolor, Cladium californicum, Panicum lanuginosum, Habenaria sparsifola, Epipactis giantea, Primula specuicola and Celtis retiulata.

Mimulus eastwoodiae, Eastwood’s Monkey Flower, with Maden hair fern, Adiantum capillus-veneris

These hanging gardens are truly a sight to see! Alice Eastwood, famous curator of Botany at the California Academy of Sciences was one of the first people to describe this plant community, and subsequently found new species include this beautiful Aquilegia micrantha

Aquilegia micrantha, Mancos Columbine

Eastwood’s monkey flower (Mimulus eastwoodiae) was named after Alice Eastwood, in honor of her ferocious botanical spirit. She was one of the first women botanists in the west. I may have even visited the same Hanging Gardens that she herself visited! I can only hope to follow in her botanical footsteps.

On the same trip that I went to visit the hanging gardens, I also went to Monument Valley! We drove past the mexican hat on our way.

Mexican Hat, Utah

The Mexican Hat formation is considered to be a Hoodoo, which is a spire of rock that is formed through the various processes of weathering of the rock.  I wonder why they can it Mexican Hat…

After driving for a time, we finally made it to Monument Valley, Navajo Tribal Park.

The Mittens, Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park

It was astonishingly beautiful! We got there just as a monsoonal storm was coming in, making for beautiful views!

Three Sisters, Monument Valley, Navajo Tribal Park

Here is one last pic from Monument Valley, right before my camera died!

Totem pole and Yei Bei Chei

I have had such a great journey so far, and I still have 4 more weeks to go! Can’t wait to see what adventures I get into next. Stay tuned, as always, stay green!

The author, Jessica Orozco, at a hanging garden


Cultural Immersion not Introversion

Salutations from the Southwest! The monsoon season out here is almost over out here, bringing lots of rain and making for a second spring!

Near the southern Chuska Mountains

I have been staying with Arnold Clifford and his family out here in the community of Beclabito, NM for the past 4 weeks, near the Carrizo mountains.  I have been fortunate enough to learn about the culture of the Dine’ people by being totally immersed in the culture! I have been invovled in the local community by going to the Northern Dine’ Youth Committee meetings and I have even been going to a Zumba class here on the reservation! I am so grateful to be accepted by so many people. This speaks to the inclusive nature of native communities.

Carrizo Mountains, near Beclabito, NM

During the course of my time here, we visited the Navajo Dam. This land is considered to be part of the ancestral Navajo lands known as Dinetah, and is administered by the Bureau of Reclamation. The Dam was created in 1962 at the convergence of the San Juan and Los Pinos rivers.


Navajo Dam

According to Arnold Clifford, the convergence of these two rivers, and the surrounding area (now under water) is a place of the ‘Whirling logs’.

The place of the whirling logs is a sacred place where people went to gain wisdom and knowledge. The symbol of the whirling logs may look similar to the swastika, a symbol known the world over because it represents Hilter and the genocide of the Jewish people, but with key differences. The whirling logs symbol has the protrusions of the log turning clockwise, whereas the swastika is counter-clockwise.

Anytime Will do My Love By Melissa Cody

Additionally, the whirling logs symbol has been around for thousands of years before Hitler, and has always represent the search for wisdom and knowledge. It’s unfortunate that most people mistake this sacred symbol for a symbol of genocide. That is why it’s important to know your history!

Navajo Nation Council Chamber, Windowrock, AZ.

This time of the year is fair season in Navajo Country. There are 9 fairs that take place throughout the month of September, and ending with the last fair in Shiprock, NM which takes place the first weekend of October. The 68th Annual Navajo Nation Fair took place in Windowrock, AZ the capital of the Navajo nation.These fairs are a way for the Navajo people far and wide, on and off the reservation, to come together and promote family values through culture and tradition. While at the main fair in Windowrock, I was also fortunate enough to see the Miss Navajo contest.

The Miss Navajo contest was created in 1952 and far from a beauty pageant, the Miss Navajo competition is one of tradition and culture. Miss Navajo is an ambassador for the Dine’ people, and should know the traditional values of the culture, and be fluent in the Dine’ language. Contestants accrue points throughout the 4-day competition, which includes contests in traditional talent, contemporary talent, frybread making and sheep butchering. The butchering is by far the most difficult and most important of the contests. (Warning: the following pictures contain cultural values that include butchering sheep in a sacred way. Please be advised)

2014 Miss Navajo contestants butchering sheep at the 68th annual Navajo Nation Fair, Windowrock, AZ.

Contestants are paired up and have one hour to skin and butcher a whole adult sheep. This is important because to the Navajo People, sheep are life, and are  important food, and provide wool for weaving. Use EVERY part of the sheep, including the blood to make blood sausage, a traditional Navajo food! Butchering an adult sheep is no easy task, it takes alot of muscles and knowledge to know where to break the bones and butcher the sheep, using simple knifes. It was so cool being able to witness culture in action!

I am here at a good time botanically. Because it’s the tail ending of monsoonal season, the four corners area has experienced alot of rains, making for a beautiful fall flora!

Ipomopsis multiflora, found near the southern Chuska mountains

I have been learning so much both about botany and geology, as well as culture. I am excited to see what the next 5 weeks will bring! Stay tuned, and as always, stay green 🙂

The author (Jessica Orozco) at the Windowrock at the Navajo Nation capital.




My Journey to the Navajo Nation

Greetings from the Navajo Nation! I arrived in Shiprock, NM on Sunday, Aug. 10th, and have been blown away by the beauty of the landscape.

Shiprock, NM., Navajo Nation

I am out here for 10 weeks to learn from Arnold Clifford, a field botanist and geologist and associated editor for the Flora of the Four Corners, as well as the Bolack San Juan Basin Flora Project. He is a member of the Dine’ (Navajo) Tribe, a native of the community of Beclahbito, NM and the Carrizo Mountain Range. Arnold has lived and worked in this area his whole life and is an expert on the flora and it’s uses in Navajo culture. He is a knowledge bearer, ethnobotanist, traditional sheep shearer and is fluent in the Dine’ language. I was fortunate enough to meet him when I invited him to give a lecture at  Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden. When I was presented with an amazing opportunity to learn from him as a type of internship on the Reservation, I jumped at the chance which is how I ended up out here in Navajo Country.

Chimney Rock, Navajo Nation
Chimney Rock. The site of many famous Western movies, Navajo Nation

It is so beautiful out here! The landscape is exquisite, and the sky is breathtaking. The clouds out here get to be all big and fluffy, and the sunsets are beautiful! No two are alike. The land is so wide open it’s almost startling how you can see everything unobstructed, for miles around. And then, all the sudden there are these giant landforms, colorful uplifts that create amazing forms as they weather over time.

Beautiful uplifts in the background, with the town of Durango, CO in the foreground

There are many different vegetation community types, including microhabitats that contribute to the overall plant diversity found on the Navajo Nation.

Landscape near the Beclahbito community, Navajo Nation. Hard to categorize this vegetation type because it includes influences from Juniper woodland, grassland swells, and alkali desert scrub

I’ve been here for a little over a week, and have already covered many topics. Arnold Clifford lectures throughout the day, as we travel to different areas on the Navajo Reservation. Lectures include subjects such as Navajo culture, botany of the four corners, ethnobotany of the Navajo, geology and more. It’s wonderful! We have made trips to many different areas including the Lukachukai mountain range and Chuskas mountains.

Northwestern foothills of the Lukachukai mountains, near the Cove community, Navajo nation. Ponderosa Pine forest community

Along with learning about the natural history of the Navajo Nation, I have also been learning about the culture. I was fortunate enough to witness traditional Navajo sheep searing! The Navajo have been raising and searing sheep to use the wool in weaving since the early 1600’s, when the Spanish introduced sheep into the area. Before this they used what Arnold Clifford refers to as “Navajo Cotton” which is a word used to incorporate a range of species which included the soft follicles of Asclepias species or the follicles of Typha species, etc.

Arnold uses specific shears to cut the wool; not electric ones.

Past shears used for cutting wool. Before metal shears, the Navajo most likely used stone knifes to cut the wool from the sheep.

He talks to the sheep in Navajo, speaking words of reassurance. He then ties the hind legs together with one of the front legs (not both incase the animal struggles,  it won’t hurt itself).

Arnold lets the sheep see and smell the sears, to get the sheep used to the blade and isn’t scared


Then begins the shearing, starting with the hind legs and working to the flank. After that is the head and neck region, being careful not to break the ‘ring’ of wool around the neck, this is considered good luck. Then flip the sheep on the other side and repeat. The total process took about 25 mins. I am grateful for the opportunity to learn about this traditional practice.

Arnold Clifford: Botanist/Geologist/Traditional sheep shearer. Plant presses make nice seats for sheep shearing!

The Navajo Nation are in the middle of elections for president, and I was fortunate enough to attend a Dine’ Youth forum for the presidential candidates to address the concerns and needs of the Youth. I got to witness Native politics firsthand! It was inspiring to see so many youth interesting in their government.

Dinè Youth Forum, Shiprock Chapter House

There are many parallels to the politics of small government, the same dodging of questions, etc.  It was all very interesting.

It has been a busy week, I have learned a lot, but there is still so much more to learn! I am so grateful for this amazing opportunity to learn about the plant diversity as well as the culture of the Navajo Nation. I look forward to all the amazing places I will go and the people I will meet. I will keep you updated on what I learn by posting the highlights here on my blog. Stay tuned for more adventures! Until then, blue skies! 🙂

The author (Jessica Orozco) at the Four Corners National monument