No. 5: Land returned to Wiyot Tribe
For years, lands on Indian Island were subjected to industrial degradation and Western occupation. The island’s legacy went from that of a Native American sacred site to one of bloodshed, after scores of Wiyot people were massacred by a group of Eureka men in 1860.
None of that history can be changed. But in October, a new chapter emerged: The city of Eureka, in an emotional ceremony, formally transferred the land back to the Wiyot Tribe.
It was a a return many years in the making. Tribal members wept as they remembered the struggle that had brought them to the moment.
“We never gave up on our land or where we came from,” said Cutcha Risling Baldy, a Native American studies assistant professor at Humboldt State University, on the fateful day of transfer.
“And that’s the story I want people to know,” she continued. “I know that the story of Tuluwat, which people often refer to as Indian Island, is one of a massacre for most people. But for me, it has always been a place of world renewal.”
Music and friendship filled the Adorni Center as Wiyot tribal members performed ceremonial songs and dances for those in attendance.
The process leading up to the ceremony was less celebratory. A great deal of work separated the city’s decision last year to give back the land and the actual moment of transfer. For the tribe, it had been a long time since then-Mayor Frank Jäger first officially apologized for the massacre in 2014.
The land still needs to be “healed” from the shipyard and drydock era of the 19th century, which left much of the Tuluwat village site contaminated with “paints, pesticides, metals, wood treatment chemicals” and other substances, tribal administrator Michelle Vassel said in October.
With the land’s return, the tribe found a moment to heal from generations of trauma. The massacre had interrupted the tribe’s sacred World Renewal Ceremony, halting the annual celebration for longer than a century afterward.
Now the tribe is raising funds to hold a 2020 ceremony across three locations: the Tuluwat Village on Indian Island, the Pi’mad on the south jetty at Humboldt Bay and the Rrawuraghu’muk at the Table Bluff reservation.
And beyond the ceremony, there’s still work to be done, tribal elder Cheryl Seidner said earlier this year. What does that entail?
“Educating ourselves, educating the community and learning about the tribe’s history and who we are,” Seidner said. “We are here. We’re no longer in the shadows.”
With a ceremony in October, the community celebrated the return of lands on Indian Island to the Wiyot Tribe.