Rebuilding of Miwuk village in Yosemite NP seen as “matter of survival” for tribe
In 1977, Yosemite National Park employees Jay Johnson and Les James had an unusual request: They wanted their employer to rebuild the homes that park staff had destroyed eight years prior. This was more than a pitch for employee housing. Johnson and James are Miwuk, and their ancestors inhabited the Yosemite Valley—or the Ahwahnee Valley, as it was originally known—for thousands of years. Even after Yosemite was designated a national park in 1890, about 15 families continued living in their homes on the land.
The small village housed mostly Miwuk and Paiute Native Americans who also worked in the park. Their homes were seen as employee lodging, so the Park Service allowed the buildings to remain. But as the majority of Native residents stopped working for the park or its concessionaires, Yosemite staff decided to raze the village in 1969, forcing people out of their ancestral homes. “During that time, we had no voice. We were just individuals, and we were always afraid of what the government could do to us,” says James, 83. “They could fire us or throw us out for any kind of reason, and we were always afraid of that.”