(Man’s best friend, standing in solidarity with the people of Wiyot.)
On Tuesday September 19th, John and I were heading North on Redwood Highway 101, through the town of Eureka, in Northern California. On the corner of 5th and E street, lined up on the edge of the sidewalk, a group of individuals chanted together and held signs towards the street. As we drove past, only a few words on the signs were registered to our memory, and even they didn’t make much sense to us,“Wiyot,1860, Tuluwat.” We quickly looked up “Wiyot” to find out what was going on.
We soon discovered that not too far from where we were at, on an island where the ancient village of Tuluwat was located, a horrible massacre occurred in 1860. Though the exact number is not known, an estimate of over 200 women, children and elders, from the Wiyot tribe, were murdered by the hand of white businessmen and landowners that had made their way West. This occurred at the end of the annual world renewal ceremony, a ritual meant to help heal the earth and the people’s hearts. This important ceremony to the Native people wouldn’t be performed again until the year 2014, 154 years later. This mass murder was only one of the most famous instances of violence that happened to these people. Since European settlers came to Northern California, there had been a progressing pattern of killings, rapes and even kidnappings for these vicious men to obtain slaves.
The massacre had been the end of Natives on this island. They had been relocated and put in conditions comparable to concentration camps. The land had been “bought” by a man who thought his cattle were better suited to live on this land. A shipyard repair facility was also seen as a better inhabitant by the “settlers”, so much so, that it ran until the 1980’s. The owners were even nice enough to leave behind walls of leaking batteries from the ships that came through. It wasn’t until June 2004, that finally about 60 acres of the island were given back to the Wiyot’s. Since then, they have worked endlessly at healing the scars of industry. With rusted metal scraps left like mines, they have tiptoed through, and piece by piece, ton by ton, reclaimed their land. The determination to revive this corner of nature, has been inspiring and shows us all what we can do for the rest of the planet if we work together to heal wounds from the past and work towards a better tomorrow. In June, the Eureka city council even agreed to begin negotiation on returning the remaining amount of the island that is not privately owned, to the Wiyot peoples.
So what’s the problem? Why were there people desperately trying to get the attention of drivers passing through town? Horrified at what we learned about the towns gruesome past, we then looked up current events with the tribe and saw that after finally getting a section of it back after over 150 years, after all the effort the tribe put into the land to restore it, they were once again in jeopardy of losing it. When reading on how this could possibly happen, I felt as if I were re-reading the story of how it was taken from the Wiyot’s in 1860. It’s the same story that has been happening to Natives all across North America since European settlement. It’s the story of a greedy man that will always want what is in his neighbors pocket. This man’s face and name may be different from the man who took it years ago, but he is the same inside. Another embodyment of greed and bigotry that’s plagued us through time, a wicked thorn in the paw of what could be a country that means it when they say “Liberty and justice for all.”
Rob Arkley has offered Eureka $500,000 for the remaining land that was meant to be given back to the tribe. He has turned his greed into a political battle to manipulate people into getting his way.“They’re talking about giving it away, you’ve got to be kidding me!” Arkley remarked,“I want to know why they’re declaring it surplus land to begin with.”I can’t help but wonder if he would have the same attitude if something was stolen from him and then auctioned off rather than given back. He claims that he wants to keep the land public for the community to use but logic makes you wonder what his real motives are, what are his actual plans for this island? The tribe believes that nature is for everyone to cherish, and have been restoring it for the community, to enjoy. If his real concern is keeping it open to the public then what does he have to gain when that is already being done? He has plans that aren’t being made public and that should worry everyone.
After our research, we turned around, parked and joined the cheering crowd. As cars passed beeping and smiling in support, the cheering grew louder. “Tuluwat cannot be bought!” became the chant that would be repeated. Children jumping up and down singing along, were at the beginning of the sidewalk. Many in the crowd were in fact native themselves, but welcomed friends from many different cultures. A man from the Wiyot tribe connected a microphone to an amp and began to speak, with a fire and a passion that changed a little piece of the world that day.
“When we come together we are powerful, when the people take power, the government must listen.”he encouraged ” If the people will not speak for the people, then who will?”
He sang a song from his soul, before a young woman performed a song with her guitar; that brought all of the gatherers hearts together in solidarity.
All of this took place in front of Rob Arkley’s business building, and I know it made an impression on the town, though I doubt it made a change in Arkley’s heart. Luckily, he publicly made some bigoted remarks about the city council and “It may feel good,” but,”it certainly isn’t intellectually a bright thing to do.” I think his inability to think before he talks will end up leading to his failure. Sometimes money can’t get you what you want.