No. 5: Land re­turned to Wiyot Tribe

Times Standard (Eureka) - - TOP STORIES OF 2019 - By Shomik Mukher­jee smukher­jee@times-stan­dard. com @ShomikMukh­er­jee on Twit­ter Shomik Mukher­jee can be reached at 707-441-0504.

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.”

SHOMIK MUKHER­JEE — THE TIMES-STAN­DARD FILE

With a cer­e­mony in Oc­to­ber, the com­mu­nity cel­e­brated the re­turn of lands on In­dian Is­land to the Wiyot Tribe.

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