In Which I Offer An Apology/Non-Apology Letter in response to the Eureka City Council's Apology/Non-Apology Letter for the Indian Island "Attack" (it's called a massacre people, deal with it) OR Eureka, your Indian problem is showing...
*Disclaimer* I am not a member of the Wiyot Tribe. I am a member of the Hoopa Valley Tribe and I am also Yurok and Karuk. I also do not speak for the Wiyot tribe. (I do not speak for any tribe actually. I speak for me.) The Wiyot tribe is made up of many people and I'm going to pretty much assume they speak for themselves. Please do not think that my rantings in any way reflect the beliefs of the Wiyot Tribe. Although I'd like to say I like the Wiyot Tribe very much. All us California Natives, we gotta stick together.
It's been a weird day. I spent the morning reading craptastic articles from newspapers in California between 1851-1853 that said stuff like this:
In Which I offer an Apology/Non-Apology Letter in response to the Eureka City Council's Apology/Non-Apology Letter for the Indian Island "Attack" (it's called a massacre people, deal with it) or Eureka, your Indian Problem is showing...
Dear Eureka City Council:
Your "Indian Problem" is showing. I know, you can't help it, it's hard to find coats big enough to cover it up when you have to drag it around with you at cocktail mixers or fundraisers. Everybody knows it's there. The ACLU is suing because you refuse to acknowledge it. It seems to be the only way to get your attention. Perhaps that is why you re-wrote and did an (ill advised, IMHO) revision of your apology/non-apology letter to the Wiyot people where you basically refused to acknowledge or pay respect to the severity of the Indian Island massacre while pretending like that is exactly what you were doing.
I also know your letter wasn't meant for me, exactly. Originally you had wanted to apologize to the Wiyot Tribe as they are readying themselves for their first World Renewal Ceremony since 1860. Your potentially sincere (yet entirely insincere) interest in the return of this ceremony meant to balance our earth and protect all peoples (not just Native peoples, but all peoples) perhaps sparked your interest in producing said "apology" letter.
The revitalization of the Wiyot World Renewal Ceremony can only most eloquently be described as a BFD and OMG In Yo' Face Awesome. Native peoples all over the world are talking about it. The Wiyot People are the people of Eureka, CA. They have been there since time immemorial. During the Gold Rush the Wiyot were massacred at their World Renewal Ceremony while they were resting. This was on what became known as "Indian Island." It is a place nestled in the Humboldt Bay. When I was growing up and we would drive over the bridge I would look out and say "There is Indian Island, that's where they killed a bunch of Native people for fun." (Other people played "Slug Bug" and I thought about how our landscape is rife with stories that should be remembered and told. That's how you know I was raised by *strong, proud Native people.*)
Massacring Native people in California wasn't just fun it was good business. The State of California used to pay money for Indian Scalps and Heads. Bounty was set at 10 cents per scalp and $5 per head. Man woman or child. Man, woman... or child. Merchants would provide the tools (guns, knives, axes) for murdering Native people for free, especially when a mob rose up against some perceived injustice inflicted on them by a Native person -- "injustices" like "stealing one of my cattle" or "taking my food because they are starving" or "killing a guy who was trying to rape their daughter."
There are stories about Native women jumping into the water with their children during massacres of villages and breathing through reeds for hours while watching blood spill into the water around them. There are stories about women and children and elders running for their lives only to be surrounded and riddled with bullets from either side. The Indian Island Massacre was no less debased or brutal than other massacres. And it happened during the Wiyot World Renewal Ceremony.
Why am I telling you this? Because I want to make sure that you know this and I'm not quite sure what you already know. Unfortunately, even though we live in an area that has many opportunities to learn about Native peoples, and there is a Native American Studies department at Humboldt State University (you should take a class there, everybody should take a NAS course) and there are Native Americans in government and public positions and there are Native organizations and leaders throughout our county, I also meet people every day who do not and have never really wanted to learn about or confront the very brutal history of Humboldt County and the places we live.
You don't mention these things in your apology/not-apology letter. You write "On a winters night 154 years ago, the Wiyot people of Humboldt Bay were attacked."
The Wiyot people were not attacked, Eureka City Council, they were massacred. They were murdered. "Attacked" makes it sound like some people ran in, and a lot of Native people ran out. But Native people did not escape this "attack" they faced a "massacre" and "mass murder" of their people.
The people of your great city committed a crime against humanity. Their actions were a genocide, they were deplorable, and people throughout the state and the country and the world knew, know and will know this -- even if you won't write it in a pseudo apology letter. You might think you can erase this, you might think you can take away the responsibility for what it really was, you might think that if you write different words that somehow makes it true but no matter how many times you call it an "attack" it will always be a massacre, it will always be the thoughtless, souless killing of a group of mostly women and children.
Don't tell me it's just a word or that the language doesn't matter, because that acknowledgement -- the difference between massacre and "attack"-- it matters. And you know it matters, or you wouldn't have changed it.
You seem to think that your "apology" may somehow concede to, formalize or name this genocide. And that if you name it for what it really is -- a "massacre," a "genocide" that Native people might finally see it this way and sue you, or hold you responsible. You seem to think that your letter names something for us. It doesn't. We already know. We have already named it. We call it for what it was, is, and continues to be. You don't have to say the words to us, or about us for us to know what happened. We feel it, we can see it when we look out over the land where we live. When we sing, we call on the songs and prayers and strength of thousands of years of ancestors, and we know their stories. We remember these stories and we say the "hard" words because we want to gain strength from them, because we want to honor them, because we want to heal our past, present and future.
You should say the words. You should write them. You should own them. Instead of offering "support to the Wiyot Tribe" and re-affirming "our commitment toward healing the Wiyot people's wounds" why not commit to healing your wounds too? You think this apology is just about the Wiyot people? You think that it concedes something to them and you are in fact just helping them? Is that how it feels? Like maybe you're just helping this one group of people? And it doesn't affect you? (I've heard that before. Things like "I wasn't there, it wasn't me, it doesn't affect me.")
Despite what you may think, those wounds, those lasting effects of genocide (historical trauma) they don't just infest and wreak havoc on Native peoples for generations, they infest, mark, change, and affect Non-Native persons living here and being out of balance. It is written as much in your history as it is in ours. You don't need to apologize because it's good PR, or because it might in some small way encourage the Wiyot people, (they will be and have been encouraged and empowered without your apology/not-apology) or because maybe it is a drop in the bucket of what needs to happen to re-balance this place that we all (now) call home. You need to apologize because you also need to heal.
So don't do it for me. I'm good. Don't do it for the Wiyot, they are very busy. Don't do it for the thousands of Native people living here. Do it because you, your children, your grandchildren, your friends, your family, you all need the means and ability to heal. And that begins with using right words to apologize and tell the story. But that's just a start. It's time to start Eureka, if not now... when?
Here we are, 104 years later, and here we will be. This World Renewal Ceremony will renew and balance and strengthen not just the Wiyot people, but all peoples and it will balance our world. This is what can only most eloquently be described as a BFD and OMG in Yo' Face Awesome.
And it's just a start.
In all sincerity and without any apology,
Cutcha Risling Baldy (Hupa, Karuk, Yurok)
Humboldt County Born and Raised so that makes me a super cool expert on all things Humboldt County #StreetCred
Cutcha Risling Baldy is an Associate Professor and Department Chair of Native American Studies at Humboldt State University. She received her PhD in Native American Studies from the University of California, Davis. She is also a writer, mother, volunteer Executive Director for the Native Women's Collective and is currently re-watching My Name is Earl...
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