“It’s called genocide. That’s what it was,”

California is in a moment of long-overdue reckoning with the state’s original sin — the blood-soaked treatment of the people who inhabited this land long before any white settlers ever dreamed of Manifest Destiny.

In recent months, we’ve seen Gov. Gavin Newsom issue a formal apology that refused to mince words (“It’s called genocide. That’s what it was,” the governor said), along with a rethinking of the symbolism of mission bells.

In 1860, Indian Island in Humboldt Bay was purchased without the consent of the Wiyot people, just days before an unthinkable massacre almost decimated the tribe. Nearly 160 years later, Indian Island was effectively returned to the Wiyot when the city of Eureka deeded more than 200 acres over to tribe during a signing ceremony on Monday.

Historically, “the island was home [to the Wiyot tribe] for at least 1,000 years, according to an archaeologist, and since time immemorial, according to the tribe,” as Humboldt County alt-weekly the North Coast Journal put it.

This rectification of sins past has been a long time coming.

Eureka has owned the majority of the island since the 1950s. Cheryl A. Seidner, a former tribal chairwoman, and current Wiyot cultural liaison told me over the phone that an effort to regain the sacred land had been underfoot since the 1970s.

In 2000, the tribe bought 1.5 acres of land on the eastern edge of the island for $106,000 — a sum raised tirelessly over the course of several years by selling fry bread, T-shirts and $10 posters, among other things. The city deeded 40 more acres to the tribe in 2004, but still controlled the majority of the land on the island.

The Eureka City Council voted to return its remaining 202 acres to the Wiyot in December 2018, and it was made official during Monday’s ceremony. There are a handful of remaining private homes on the island, but the vast majority of the island is now in tribal hands.

“Indian Island was the center of our world,” Seidner said. “That’s where we would go to pray. That’s where we would have ceremonies.”

The 1860 massacre was an event so horrific that it garnered national attention even in those Wild West days of early California statehood. It continues to stain the annals of the state record as “one of the most notorious massacres in California history,” according to the San Francisco Chronicle. As the Wiyot completed their weeklong world renewal ceremony, with many of the men away gathering supplies, a small group of white settlers made their coordinated, vicious attack on multiple Wiyot communities. Somewhere between 60 and 250 people — primarily women, children and the elderly — were slaughtered. The perpetrators were known locally but never faced formal charges.

There was extensive environmental contamination on the site when the tribe reacquired that first parcel of land in 2000. From the 1870s to the 1990s, a ship repair facility had operated on the island, leaving a toxic legacy of paints, solvents, metals and petroleum products on the sacred earth. “The tribe spent years and years doing restoration work,” tribal administrator Michelle Vassel said.

In recent years, candlelight vigils have been held every February to coincide with the anniversary of the massacre. “Those vigils brought out a lot of people, both Indian people, and non-Indian people, and I think that they were really a part of the healing process,” Vassel said, explaining that the environmental restoration work had also been a part of that healing process.

On Monday evening, Steve Watson, Eureka’s chief of police, took to Facebook to reflect on what he had witnessed earlier in the day at the transfer ceremony. “It may have been 160 years too late, but returning the island to the tribe was the right thing to do,” Watson wrote. “While no one living today is personally responsible for those terrible events (the massacre and the theft of the island etc.), we as a community had the moral obligation and present ability to right an incalculable wrong in a meaningful way that exceeds mere symbolism.”

And what has long been locally known as Indian Island will now be, “The village side was called Tuluwat, so now the island itself is going to be dedicated as Tuluwat Island,” Seidner explained.

Los Angeles Times

8 thoughts on ““It’s called genocide. That’s what it was,”

  1. I cringe every time I hear “ethnic cleansing”.

    There is nothing cleansing about genocide.

    I am glad that the City of Eureka did the right thing and return Tuluwat to the Wiyot. Peace.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It is sad it took nearly 50 years of effort for the Wiyot’s to get their island back. On the other hand, it has finally happened. That, I believe, is a win for the good guys.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Just in time for climate change inundation…. isn’t that what we’ve been hearing for the last few years? 12 years and it’s over? Guess the city unloaded worthless land that they won’t have to maintain after 2030.

    Psst. Who did the Wiyot people misplace when they conquered this area? Mankind has been conquering other mankind for millennia. These indigenous people you speak of came over a land bridge from Siberia 20-40 thousand years ago. And destroyed the culture and people that were here before them.

    I’m as indigenous as any Indian. I was born here. And I approve of this message.


    • Classic white superiority. Now that’s what we’d call “pathetic”
      But at least youre not pretending to be reasonable anymore

      Liked by 1 person

    • JAD:

      “These indigenous people you speak of came over a land bridge from Siberia 20-40 thousand years ago. And destroyed the culture and people that were here before them.”

      Sorry for me being a History-Nazi (closely related to Grammar-Nazis) on you, but when the first Amerinds crossed the land bridge from Siberia to the North American continent… There was no one here. They were the very first humans in the Americas.

      In short, your self serving story of Genocide practiced by the Amerinds on the peaceful locals is pure dark fantasy.

      The likely hood of Wiyots clubbing to death women and children during the night to take Duluwat Island for themselves is rather remote. *

      The rest of it comes off as childish “sour grapes.” Like in, “Aw, go ahead and take your dumb island. We didn’t want it anyway.”

      But thanks for coming and playing our game.

      * Before anyone accuses me of playing the “Noble Indian” card, I am aware that Native Americans could be quite nasty with each other when the mood struck them.

      But we are talking about an atrocity that is a matter of historical record perpetrated by one group (descendants of Europeans) on another (a specific group of Native Americans, namely the Wiyots).

      And we are observing an occasion when we come clean about what was done and at least return a part of that which was stolen from the Wiyots. Such moments in our history are rare and deserve note.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Unbelievable jad. Living up to your sick belief system, rotten and ill informed to the core. The Wiyot were the original people of coastal Humboldt. Many archaeological research projects have shown the land in and around Humboldt Bay had no inhabitants before they came. The coastal tribes moved out of the Alaskan north as the glaciers that covered most of North America started to recede. The Wiyot slowly moved down the western shoreline and ended up staying in Humboldt. You can see many early artifacts at the Clark Museum with information to educate the stupidly uninformed like jad.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. By the way, here is where you can get a comprehensive outline of the latest SCIENCE on “native” people in the new world. The magazine is New Science and the issue is Sept. 28-Oct.4, 2019. New Science(online) ISSN 2059 5387.features the cover story “The final Frontier”. It is a great read.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Hunter-gather societies, to this day, invade and brutalize neighboring tribes, enslaving their men and women.

    Human beings are predators and any act of contrition, no matter how late, is a sign of progress.

    Liked by 1 person

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