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Native Tribe Finally Regains Island Considered The ‘Physical And Cultural Center Of The Universe’


In a unanimous vote, Duluwat Island is being returned to the Wiyot people. The 280-acre island, which is located in Northern California, “is considered the ceremonial center of the Wiyot world and the creation or birthplace of Wiyot people,” said Michelle Vassel, the tribe’s administrator.

The vote took place on Monday morning, with hundreds of people gathered to witness Eureka City, California return stolen land to the Wiyot tribe.

“Unanimous yes vote. Motion carries,” said Eureka City Clerk Pam Powell, drawing a standing ovation from the crowd.

The voluntary transfer of Duluwat Island from Eurkea to the Wiyot tribe is a unique move, said indigenous activists, and it could inspire such processes with other lands.

“We look forward to other such land transfers from cities to tribal nations and hope this serves as a practical path forward to resolve similar issues elsewhere,” said a spokesman for the National Congress of American Indians.

In a horrible massacre, Duluwat Island was invaded on Feb. 26, 1860 by white men while the Wiyot Tribe was in the middle of a World Renewal Ceremony. Up to 250 tribe members were murdered—mostly women, children, and the elderly—and the land was stolen. In 2014, the major of Eureka, Frank Jager, acknowledged this bloody history in a formal letter of apology:

“As Mayor of Eureka, and on behalf of the city council and the people of Eureka, we would like to offer a formal apology to the Wiyot people for the actions of our people in 1860. Nothing we say or do can make up for what occurred on that night of infamy. It will forever be a scar on our history. We can, however, with our present and future actions of support for the Wiyot work to remove the prejudice and bigotry that still exist in our society today.”

The letter was released to the public, but then later was edited to remove some of the more “inflammatory” language such as “citizens of Eureka participated in” and “massacre of unfathomable proportions” and “formal apology” and “nothing we say or do can make up for what occurred on that night of infamy.”

But the letter inspired City Council members Natalie Arroyo and Kim Bergel, who went to the tribe and asked them how they could make amends. The tribe’s answer was simple: “Give us back the island.”


Screenshot via North Coast Journal of Politics, People & Art

During Monday’s celebration, Jager was able to read the unedited version of his letter as well as make one other recommendation: to make Feb. 26 an official day of mourning in the city, during which flags would fly at half staff memorializing the Wiyot people murdered in the 1860 massacre.

According to census figures, nearly 7 million Native Americans currently live in the United States. Most native lands are governed as sovereign territories but continue to be held in trust by the federal government. But, the Duluwat Island transfer gives many hope that lands can be peacefully returned to their rightful owners.

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