This Week in #SettlerNonsense - right in my backyard! On the Return of Tuluwat (Indian Island) to the Wiyot
Let me start here. Just the other day I was on Facebook when I came across a post from the Wiyot Tribe where they tagged my friend Rachel Sundberg and thanked her for helping them learn more about cultural protocols, dance regalia and continuing ceremonial practices. The Wiyot children in the photos were happy and strong and in one photo a young girl was wearing a dress that I recognized, a dress that was worn by Wiyot tribal member Michelle Hernandez in 2014 when the Wiyot did their first women’s coming-of-age ceremony in over 100 years.
I have to start here. I have to. Because most people would start on February 26, 1860 when Humboldt County citizens massacred more than 150 Wiyot people who had just finished their World Renewal Ceremony to pray for the health and well-being of the community and the world. Humboldt County citizens came with hatchets and knives - what one scholar, Tony Platt, refers to as “quiet weapons.” They murdered mostly Indian women and children. And that was the last time the Wiyot performed a World Renewal Ceremony on Tuluwat (what became known as “Indian Island”).
I don’t want to start there. Because the Wiyot are so much more than the massacring of their people. They not only have survived, they have thrived and they continue to restore and revitalize. In 2014 they brought back their women’s coming-of-age ceremony and then they also revitalized their World Renewal Ceremony, on Tuluwat.
The City of Eureka has been working with the Wiyot for the return of Indian Island for a few years now. The Wiyot Tribe purchased some of the island in 2000 which included an ancestral village.
In 2000, after years of fundraising, the tribe purchased an acre and a half of the historic Tuluwat site from the City of Eureka, and six years later the city voluntarily returned an additional 60 acres to the tribe. https://lostcoastoutpost.com/2015/apr/4/eureka-consider-giving-rest-indian-island-back-wiy/
In 2015 the Eureka City Council voted to give the island back to the tribe - in toto.
On Monday, local (businessman?) Rob Arkley went on the KINS Radio TalkShop to talk about his opinions on the return of Tuluwat to the Wiyot.
They want to give away Indian Island to the In- to the Wiyots. Well I use Indian Island. I like it. My kids do. I see people there all the time when I’m over there. I don’t get how they can take one of our assets and give it. So I’m going to be offering over the appraised value for the property and if I get it, giving it away as surplus property, well that’s fine, but at the same time that’s an asset that’s gone from the public forever the Wiyots have made no commitment for us to use it and the city is giving it away! What is this city thinking of? I mean, it’s astonishing and flabbergasting to me. https://lostcoastoutpost.com/2017/jul/31/rob-arkley-wants-buy-indian-island-prevent-eureka/
A day later he (and his wife) tried to clarify what they meant when he said “What is this city thinking of?” etc. So they made a statement which went like this:
Rob’s conversation on Talk Shop [yesterday] morning was completely misconstrued by Lost Coast Outpost in the article they posted [Monday]. We believe in this community and have proven it time and time again with our contributions over the years. Now we have offered to purchase Indian Island, but we do not want to own it. We would rather preserve it for the entire community.
Look, we can go over and over the history of genocide in Humboldt County, the “deranged frontier” (as Jack Norton says), the indiscriminate murder of Native people that founded this place, details like “Indian hunting days” and killing babies by stomping on their heads or cutting out their hearts. We can talk about how Native peoples were called “savage” while murderers were called “settlers.” We can go over the statistics like the $1 million dollars paid for the hunting and killing of Indians in the State of California, with some prices set at $5 per head and 25 cents per scalp. Or even stories about people riding their horses down the center of town with Indian heads dragged behind them so they could trade them in for money.
We can talk about the day that I was in the archive and came across a picture of Humboldt County “legend” Seth Kinman who is described as a “hunter and early settler of the Humboldt County region” when in fact he was murdering psycho-path who liked to pose in photos with Indian scalps. We could look at the Indian slave records in Humboldt County and talk about Native people who were sold into slavery in Old Town Eureka and how records show most of these were children.
We can talk about the indiscriminate sexual assault of Native women and children that happened during this founding of Humboldt County, how there were reports of Indian women being assaulted as their families had to watch in horror, afraid that if they tried to fight back their daughters would be killed. We can call into question why the names of roads in our towns are the names of men who “settled” this place when settlement was not benign, it was depraved. We can reiterate that there are some settler families who benefited from this violence more than others; that Humboldt County wealthy landowners did not get their land legally, they stole it, taking over large areas were Native peoples were forced out often through massacres or enslavement. We can wonder why Fort Humboldt isn’t categorized as a “concentration camp” when they were laboring Indians to death, starving them and holding them against their will. We can open up our minds and hearts and realize that genocide -- it’s written on the landscape.
I teach this history because it’s important. I’m always surprised how little students and other people really know about what happened in California. We have no public memorials to the Native people who fought, bled, died and survived this horrific period of time. In school, children learn about a benign mission system, a prosperous gold rush, and a “fair” rancho system. Native children grow up hearing about what their ancestors did to survive, because we want them to know - you are from a strong, enduring people. This water runs through you, this land has built you, and you will heal your community to heal the land, heal the land to heal your community.
That’s right I said community. I have said it before - when Native people are talking about healing, preservation, protection, they aren’t just talking about building a better future for Indians, they are talking about building a better future for the earth. You live here right? Earth? When we talk about the balance, health and well-being that we pray for during our World Renewal Ceremonies we are talking about the balance, health, and well-being of everyone. We need to find tangible ways to address the issues that we ALL still carry with us from this depraved history. You know “learn from each other and benefit from our differing cultures for generations to come.” How do we do that in a way that matters? How do we benefit for generations?
It’s pretty simple - return the land. Let the Wiyot decide how to move forward. You know why. Because it’s not “giving Indian Island away” it’s “returning” it, to the rightful owners.
Let’s say that you have this beautiful house that your family has been in for generations. And one day your Dad sits you down and says: “Child, you are about to inherit our family house. FYI in order for us to gain ownership of the house, we came in the middle of the night and murdered everyone who lived here. And then it was ours. Oh, and also, the extended family and descendents of the survivors of our murder spree live just down the way. They sometimes come and say prayers outside the house.”
What do you do? Live in the murder house? It’s not YOURS. At some point you have a guy (maybe his name rhymes with Cob Carkley) who comes over and goes "I understand that you are thinking about giving your house back to the family of the people your family murdered to get your house. How about I offer you double the price and you DON'T give it back because I also want to use your house and my kids like it." #SoundsLegit
When I offer this example to my classes students have very clear reactions to this scenario. (1) don’t steal other people’s stuff. It’s wrong. (2) if you inherit or benefit from someone who stole other people’s stuff, and you know that, you should do what you can to rectify that situation. (3) the easiest way to rectify that situation is to give the darn things back. (4) it’s that simple.
I’m trying to break it down into its simplest form but the truth is that Tuluwat is so much more than just “stolen stuff.” Oh it’s stolen, but it’s also not just about getting some “thing” back. Tuluwat is not being returned because the Wiyot “want” it, it is being returned because that is the right thing to do. For everyone. For the entire “community.”
We are a part of the community too, us Natives. Have been since the beginning of the time. Will be. Always. The water runs through our veins. The land builds us. We pray for the health and well being of all things, we sing, we dance, we heal the community to heal the land, we heal the land to heal the community. All of the community. Everything. Together.
Cutcha Risling Baldy is an Assistant Professor of American Indian Studies at San Diego State University. She received her PhD in Native American Studies from the University of California, Davis. She is also a writer, mother, fan of "The Good Wife" and "The Walking Dead", who likes to go for long walks on long piers...
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