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Tucson is giving a stretch of ancestral land back to the Tohono O'odham Nation

Coverage of tribal natural resources is supported in part by Catena Foundation

The city of Tucson is returning a portion of ancestral land to the Tohono O’odham Nation in a new resolution unanimously passed by the City Council this week. 

The nearly 11-acre stretch of land is located at the base of Sentinel Peak, a more than 2,000 foot peak southwest of what is today downtown Tucson. The Santa Cruz river runs right next to one side of the mountain's base and the Tohono O’odham’s Hohokam ancestors have farmed and lived there for more than 4,500 years.

Mayor Regina Romero calls it the birthplace of Tucson. 

"In this particular tract of land that we are returning to its rightful owners, we see how the Hohokam lived. And the archeology is there to prove it," she said. "There were several burials in the area and this particular village ... was where the city of Tucson began. The Hohokam people called it Chuk-son referring to the Black Mountain."

Romero says she and City Council member Lane Santa Cruz, whose district includes Sentinel Park, have been working with Tohono O'odham Nation officials for the last two years on the project and what happens next with the acreage is up to the tribe. 

"Very importantly, is to recognize the importance of this land, the history that it carries, but also that the nation is a sovereign nation, and that we did not want to give this land back with any strings attached," she said. 

Romero says this is the first time in Arizona that a city has transferred ancestral land back to a tribe, the city of Oakland became one of the first in California to do so last year.

Alisa Reznick is a senior field correspondent covering stories across southern Arizona and the borderlands for the Tucson bureau of KJZZ's Fronteras Desk.