Newsletter: Eureka returns an island to a tribe nearly 160 years after a massacre
Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Tuesday, Oct. 22 and I’m writing from Los Angeles.
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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 a 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.”
[See also: “ ‘We’re Coming Home’ The unprecedented return of Indian Island to the Wiyot Tribe” in North Coast Journal]
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 Tuluwat. “The village side was called Tuluwat, so now the island itself is going to be dedicated as Tuluwat Island,” Seidner explained.
And now, here’s what’s happening across California:
Tens of thousands of Californians could be without power again this week as two major utility companies consider shutting off electricity to large swaths of the state amid heightened concerns that hot weather and strong winds could lead to wildfires. PG&E may shut off power in 17 California counties as dangerous winds return. More than 17,000 Southern California Edison customers in five counties — Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Orange, Santa Barbara and Ventura — are also under consideration for power outages in coming days. Los Angeles Times
Firefighters battled a brush fire that quickly chewed through at least 30 acres in the Pacific Palisades neighborhood of Los Angeles, burning dangerously close to multimillion-dollar homes in a hillside neighborhood. About 200 homes in the area were under evacuation orders, which have since been lifted. A separate brush fire on Little Mountain in San Bernardino County was threatening homes on Monday evening. Los Angeles Times
[Map: Here are the active wildfires in California]
California independents can cast ballots for Democrats but not Trump in March primary: In accordance with the political parties’ wishes, California voters who are unaffiliated with a political party will be able to participate in the Democratic presidential primary next year, but they will be prohibited from casting ballots for President Trump or any possible Republican challenger, according to information released Monday by state elections officials. Los Angeles Times
They paid $800 a month to live without water or power in an illegally converted South L.A. church. Los Angeles Times
A reporter’s first time covering a California wildfire became a baptism by hot pink fire retardant. Los Angeles Times
Because you can only do so many Happy Meals: Here are 16 kid-friendly L.A. restaurants to check out. Eater LA
Residents can complain about airplane noise in the valley with the push of a button. But is anyone listening? Los Angeles Daily News
Dating Art People is the new hot trend for A-list actresses, per the gossip-chasers at Page Six. (Jennifer Lawrence married her art dealer boyfriend last weekend; several starlet wedding guests brought their own art world plus ones.) Page Six
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POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT
Citing gasoline prices that are as much as 30 cents a gallon higher than those in other states, Gov. Newsom asked the state attorney general to investigate whether California’s leading oil and gas suppliers are involved in price-fixing or other unfair practices. Los Angeles Times
A “blatantly racist’ billboard attacking San Francisco Mayor London Breed has been denounced by a bevy of city and state elected officials, who called for its removal. The billboard was paid for by a fringe mayoral candidate. San Francisco Chronicle
San Jose’s mayor wants the the city to explore breaking up with PG&E. He’s directing staff to study the feasibility of creating a municipal utility, which would potentially require the city to purchase power lines off of PG&E. San Jose Inside
Need an Eric Swalwell-branded shoelace? Just kidding, no one does. But the Dublin congressional rep still has $7,000 worth of them left over from his short-lived presidential run. San Francisco Chronicle
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has quietly recommended campaign hires to Pete Buttigieg’s campaign in a rare example of direct political involvement from one of tech’s most powerful executives. Bloomberg
CRIME AND COURTS
Facing prospect of added bribery charge, four parents pleaded guilty in the admissions scandal despite having previously maintained their innocence for months. Los Angeles Times
HEALTH AND THE ENVIRONMENT
Coachella Valley schools remained closed Monday because of the Thermal dump fire. Smoke from the recycling center fire has reduced air quality and sickened numerous students last week. The Desert Sun
Officials want to declare a public health emergency at the Salton Sea, aiming to force Gov. Newsom and federal officials to free up emergency funds and take immediate action to tamp down dangerous dust. The Desert Sun
Gusty winds could cause problems for San Joaquin Valley residents with respiratory issues. The winds are expected to cause blowing dust in areas where soils are exceptionally dry, which can create unhealthy concentrations of particulate matter. A health cautionary statement was issued for San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Merced, Madera, Fresno, Kings, Tulare and Kern counties over the weekend. Visalia Times-Delta
Black mold is growing in California prisons, but federal officials won’t test it. Sacramento Bee
Growing pains at Joshua Tree National Park: Annual attendance at the park has nearly doubled in the past five years, making for hour-long waits at the park’s west entrance and choked parking lots inside the park. Several construction projects and proposals could help. The Desert Sun
The largest private collection of African American quilts was donated to a Berkeley museum. The UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive will receive the nearly 3,000 quilts. Hyperallergic
In the city of Bakersfield’s ever-evolving quest to revitalize its downtown, loosened parking restrictions for developers are now on the table. Bakersfield Californian
Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs and his wife, Anna Malaika Nti-Asare-Tubbs, announced the birth of their first child on Saturday. Welcome to the world, Michael Malakai Tubbs Jr. Stockton Record
Despite public concerns, Napa County approved a “remote” winery on a mountain road. Concerns were raised about how winery visitors would evacuate on the narrow road in case of wildfire, among other things. Napa Valley Register
Beyoncé or Bears Boulevard in downtown Berkeley? It’s all on the table as the city reconfigures part of Shattuck Avenue, and asks the public for suggestions on a new name for the two-block stretch. Berkeleyside
Los Angeles: sunny, 94. San Diego: sunny, 87. San Francisco: sunny, 73. San Jose: sunny, 84. Sacramento: sunny, 85. More weather is here.
Today’s California memory comes from Martha Purinton Perry:
“In reading about the scare of earthquakes I remembered back to 1950. I was 10 years old living in Lancaster, Ca., but had come from West Virginia where I had never experienced [an earthquake]. I was in the bathtub having a relaxing bath when it seemed the tub was bouncing up and down and bottles flying everywhere. We soon moved back to West Virginia.”
If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)
Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments, complaints, ideas and unrelated book recommendations to Julia Wick. Follow her on Twitter @Sherlyholmes.