EUREKA – Indigenous Peoples’ Day is a holiday that honors Native peoples and commemorates their histories and cultures. It is celebrated across the United States on the second Monday in October, which falls on Monday, Oct. 12. Cooperation Humboldt encourages residents to mark Indigenous Peoples’ Day this year by participating in a voluntary tax called the Honor Tax. Detailed information is available at cooperationhumboldt.com/wiyot-honor-tax.
An Honor Tax is a tangible way of honoring the sovereignty of Native Nations. It is called a tax because it’s not a gift or donation. The tax is voluntary, and the amount is decided by the individual/organization, and is paid directly to the historical inhabitants of the place where one currently lives and/or works. For those of us who live in the greater Wigi (Humboldt Bay) area, those historical inhabitants are the Wiyot Tribe. Those who live outside the greater Humboldt Bay area can look up their appropriate Tribal entity at https://native-land.ca/.
According to Wiyot Tribal Administrator Michelle Vassel, “Tribal governments provide essential service to their citizens. Other governments tax property, land, and income in order to provide these services. Tribal Governments cannot do this as their ancestral territory is occupied. We cannot tax our own people because they are already paying local, state, and federal taxes and tribal lands are held in trust by the federal government, or being taxed by other governments. The Wiyot Tribe operates primarily on grant funding. That places Tribes in a position of being subject to the whims of the federal government and nonprofit foundations which often dictate how funds must be spent. For me, the Honor tax is a really important tool to develop economic sovereignty because it allows us to choose how we spend funds with no strings attached.”
A growing number of individuals, businesses, and nonprofits locally have recognized the importance of the Honor Tax and have committed to paying it on a regular basis. Some pay monthly, and others annually. The amounts vary.
Earlier this year, College of the Redwoods began paying the Wiyot Honor Tax. Marty Coelho, executive director of College Advancement and the CR Foundation shares, “Our college believes that it is important to commit to an Honor Tax in recognition of the history and legacy of the Wiyot Tribe and acknowledge that the CR Eureka campus occupies former Wiyot tribal land. Being able to provide funds which in turn will help support services for Wiyot elders and youth, is not only a good thing to do, it’s the right thing to do.”
In 2019 Cooperation Humboldt resolved to pay one percent of its gross annual income to the Wiyot Tribe as an Honor Tax in perpetuity. “In addition to working in all of our program areas to center the needs and perspectives of Indigenous peoples, and developing authentic relationships and partnerships with local Tribal entities, we believe that payment of this voluntary tax is an essential piece of moving toward reconciliation and repair of relationships that have been deeply damaged by hundreds of years of inequality and genocide,” explains Tamara McFarland, a board member of Cooperation Humboldt.
The Humboldt Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, also participates in the Honor Tax. “We’re grateful for the opportunity to take up a special collection every year to pay our Honor Tax to the Wiyot Tribe. It reminds us of the historical injustice visited upon the Wiyot people by colonist predecessors and gives us a chance to align in a small way with what we hope will become meaningful reparations,” says Richard Kossow of HUUF’s Social Action Committee.
Some of the people who pay this tax prefer to do so anonymously because they do not wish to use the Honor Tax as a way to promote themselves as businesses or individuals, but prefer to keep the focus on Indigenous peoples. One Arcata business owner who pays the Honor Tax and wishes to remain anonymous shares, “It’s important to me to pay the tax because it recognizes the sovereignty of Indigenous Nations. It also represents a recognition that most of us are living on stolen land, and that’s generally not something that we are forced to recognize in any formal way in our daily lives. It’s also a way to acknowledge that Indigenous People are still here as active and vibrant members of our communities, and to honor the fact that we have so much to learn and gain from their continued presence.”
Another meaningful way to honor Indigenous People’s Day this year is by participating in Humboldt State University’s Native American Center for Academic Excellence’s Indigenous People’s Week celebration, which kicked off on Monday, Oct.12 at noon, and includes educational Zoom sessions focused on Indigenous experiences and perspectives all week long. More information is available at itepp.humboldt.edu/indigenous-peoples-week.