National Geographic : 2010 Aug
• Between the city that gave birth to the atomic bomb and a Rio Grande Valley now studded with Indian casinos, something new is appearing under the sun: the way things were. Here in New Mexico's Santa Clara Canyon, a Native American tribe is restoring its ancestral land. On a volcanic blu 200 feet above Santa Clara Creek sit the Puye Cli Dwellings, with hundreds of rooms in buildings fashioned from cut stone and at least 700 more homes incised into the so tu of the cli s below. No one has been home for ve centuries. e settlement was probably created dur- ing a time of good rain. en deep drought emptied out this pueblo around 1580. e descendants of its former inhabitants are the cur- rent residents of Santa Clara Pueblo, an Indian reservation eight miles downstream on the Rio Grande. e tribe is working to restore the entire watershed along Santa Clara Creek to its natural state a er decades of neglect. Eventually thousands of acres will once again be thick with native plants, beaver, and cutthroat trout. e Santa Clara Pueblo is among a growing number of tribes across the United States---of 564 recognized by the Bureau of Indian A airs (BIA)---making moves to bring back land crushed over generations of human use. Native American reservations cover 55 million acres of land (compared with 84 million acres controlled by the National Park Service), though most of these acres are not managed as wilder- ness or wildlife preserves. But something remarkable is emerging in Indian country. ose whose lands were once taken from them, those once dominated, o en brutally, by the U.S. government, are setting an example for how to steward the environment. In 1979 the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of Montana became the rst in the nation to set aside tribal land---92,000 acres of the Flathead Reservation's mountains and meadows---as wilderness. Since then, the Nez Perce have acquired 16,286 acres of ancestral lands in northeast Oregon that they will manage solely to bene t sh and wildlife. e Assiniboine and Sioux tribes in northeastern Mon- tana are working to bring back bison on the Fort Peck Reservation. In Minnesota the Chippewa, or Ojibwa, have restored a ravaged walleye population at Red Lake. And on the Fort Apache Reservation in Arizona the threatened Apache trout is nding a new home, and the forest is now managed with ecology, not just lumber, in mind. Santa Clara Pueblo's conservation program had an unlikely begin- ning. Late one evening in May 2000 a controlled burn to remove By Charles Bowden Photographs by Jack Dykinga Charles Bowden wrote about Libya's Fezzan region in the October 2009 issue. Jack Dykinga photographed the Big Bend of Texas and Mexico in 2007.