WASHINGTON (AP) _ Seized by the government from an alleged marijuana grower, a remote four-acre clearing in northwestern California has been returned to an Indian tribe that considers it the spiritual center of the universe.

For centuries, Karuk Indians have used the site above a Klamath River waterfall for an annual ceremony ``to renew the world and ensure the salmon and acorns come back,'' Alvis Johnson, tribe chairman, said in a telephone interview Tuesday.

``We're very excited,'' he said. ``We got part of our land back.''

Johnson spoke after Attorney General Janet Reno announced an agreement between the Justice and Interior Departments to return the land to the tribe. The Bureau of Indian Affairs will hold the Siskiyou County, Calif., land in trust for the Karuk.

The federal government seized the land was seized July 27, 1993, from Bradley Throgmorton, owner of a fishing lodge and cabins built in the 1950s on the site of the ancient Karuk village Katimin.

In the off season, Throgmorton cultivated marijuana seedlings for transplanting later in the adjacent Klamath National Forest, a Drug Enforcement Administration agent who was among officers arresting him said in an affidavit.

Facing narcotics and other charges, Throgmorton accepted a plea bargain and pleaded guilty to state weapons charges filed by the Siskiyou County District Attorney.

Because California has no civil forfeiture statute, U.S. prosecutors used the federal forfeiture law and seized the property based on the state conviction.

The U.S. attorney offered the land near the Oregon border for sale. The Karuk lacked the money to buy the property. Instead the tribe asked the Bureau of Indian Affairs for it under a federal policy that encourages transfer of forfeited property to further the mission of federal agencies.

``I'm very excited about this transfer,'' Reno said. ``Land once used by a criminal who flouted the law will be returned to those native peoples who hold it sacred. This agreement benefits not only the Karuk but all Indian peoples in the Klamath River basin.''

The fishing lodge burned down after the seizure. Johnson said the tribe plans to remove some outbuildings and fences and ``restore the land to its original state.''

Johnson said his tribe returned to the site to live and for religious ceremonies year after year _ even after gold miners burned the Indian village in 1852 and other whites burned it again in 1883. In the 1950s, the Bureau of Indian Affairs sold some Indian land allotments to non-Indians, one of whom built the Somes Bar Lodge, a fishing camp and resort.

Johnson said ceremonial dances still were conducted just outside the lodge fence for many years, and the land now is occupied only by a medicine man who acts as tribal caretaker and his family.

The area includes a large hole for the kind of pit house in which the Karuks traditionally lived, several sacred trails and a sweat house, or cedar-plank sauna, used to purify the medicine man before ceremonies, Johnson said. Hundreds of Karuk Indians return annually from throughout California for the summer Brush Dance, a healing ceremony, and, usually in September, for the world renewal dance.

In summarizing the tribe's oral literature, Johnson told the government of a colorful menagerie that explain physical features of the area around the destroyed Indian village:

``Katimin was the home of powerful Immortals whose warlike activities gave Katimin and its surroundings strong medicines against enemies. Besides fierce Duck Hawk and his jealous and vengeful wife, Grizzly Woman, there were Scabby Old Man and the Savage Winged One who both performed heroic deeds. Less heroic Immortals who lived at Katimin or visited include Turtle, Coyote, Skunk, Meadow Mouse, the Mice Girls, Nighthawk, Poorwill, Mole, Old Widow, Mink and Pacific Salmon.''