The 1860 Wiyot Massacre on Indian Island was not the first in the region, and it wouldn’t be the last. It was one of many efforts by the encroaching white population to eradicate the Indians who called California home. Trouble began for the Wiyot people in 1849 when the discovery of gold brought white settlers to Humboldt Bay.
The Wiyot Massacre of February 26, 1860 left some 80 to 250 Wiyot women and children dead when six white settlers attacked the village of Tuluwat on Indian Island in the Bay.
Tuluwat was the spiritual center for the Wiyot. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, there were 20 villages spread over 40 square miles on the island, with a population of some 3,000. The attack by those six men—who were locally known but never charged—started a downward spiral for the Wiyot. Those who survived the attack took refuge at Fort Humboldt, where nearly half died of starvation or exposure. Those who remained after that were forced to relocate to reservations at Klamath.
“The Wiyot people did not disappear, and attempted to return to their homeland. Often, they found their homes destroyed and lands taken. Wiyot cultural practices and language were discouraged by official policies of ‘acculturation.’ Wiyot people learned to work and live within the white community, effectively ‘walking in two worlds.’ Wiyot people often went to white schools, married European immigrants, and helped to build the timber, fishing and agricultural industries,” says the Wiyot website.
“I think that is a wonderful thing to happen because no one has ever done that before outside of giving us 60 acres, which we are grateful for,” former Wiyot Tribal Chairwoman Cheryl A. Seidner told the Times-Standard.
She is referring to the 60 acres turned over to the tribe in 2000 after the tribe purchased 1.5 acres of the island to restore the site of the World Renewal Ceremony, which was going on at the time of the massacre.
“It’s a huge deal,” Humboldt State University Native American Studies Chairman Marlon Sherman said of the apology. “First of all, the city of Eureka giving land to the tribe in the first place, that was huge. That never happens. Cities or counties or states just don’t give land back, so that was a wonderful acknowledgment of responsibility.
“Now, this apology to go along with that speaks really highly of the people in the city of Eureka,” Sherman told the Times-Standard. “This is, for the city of Eureka, a major, major admission. I’m impressed with the action.”
Eureka Mayor Frank Jager told the Times-Standard that an apology is appropriate, especially with the World Renewal Ceremony happening later in the month.
“I thought it was appropriate that we formally apologize as a city to the Wiyot Tribe for what happened, because I don’t think anybody’s apologized to them,” Jager told the newspaper. “Over the years, people have expressed outrage and anger over what happened, but I don’t think anyone apologized for what happened that day.”