Tuluwat returned to Wiyot people

The handover ceremony. Photo by Michael Tofu Schwartz

Collin Slavey
Mad River Union

HUMBOLDT – Eureka returned Tuluwat, formerly known as Indian Island, back to the Wiyot Tribe in a revolutionary land repatriation Monday, Oct. 21. The return of historic tribal land took place after a unanimous vote of the Eureka City Council.

Hundreds of attendees crowded into the Adorni center to witness the historic event. Members of local tribes beyond showed up to show solidarity with the Wiyot people. The room was abuzz with energy while everybody waited patiently for the proceedings to begin. 

Wiyot Tribal elder Cheryl A. Seidner spoke during the public comment period of the meeting. The Wiyot tribe has been working diligently for the past five years with the City of Eureka to return Tuluwat. Seidner said the tribe had raised $165,000 to purchase 1.5 acres of Tuluwat prior to this agreement. Seidner approached Eureka Mayor Susan Seaman earlier this year simply asked for the island back. 

“I decided to be bold and ask the new mayor to give us the island they owned.” Seidner said.

Before Eureka Mayor Susan Seaman introduced the special City Council vote to return the island to the Wiyot, each member of the council was asked to speak about the subject. Eureka City Council Member Natale Arroyo wasn’t physically present, but a representative shared a letter penned by her about Tuluwat.

“I am grateful today that I,” Arroyo said, “and the City of Eureka representatives who have repeatedly given our word to the Wiyot people, can be true to our word and follow through with what we said we would do. Our intentions were always good and true, and now our word can be our deed.”

The council voted yes, unanimously. Following the vote, special speakers came to the stage to share their words about Tuluwat. Speakers included Wiyot Tribal Chairman Ted Hernandez, HSU Native American Studies department chair Cutcha Risling Baldy, and Yurok tribe member Jene L. McCovey. Their words were filled with messages of hope and progress. 

“I know that our ancestors knew this day would come.” Baldy said. “I think that we need to consider it an opportunity to think about our next steps in the future. A future with no dams, a future with salmon that are healthy, a future with our children that are singing, a future where we are dancing all the time.”

Almost on cue, a band of Wyiot marched in front of the stage. The troop had been working diligently to revive the Wiyot culture through this ancient form of expression. They performed half a dozen dances to show their progress. Hernandez was moved to join the dances halfway through one performance, to the cheers to the audience. 

The special meeting was concluded when Mayor Seaman gave Tribal Chairman Hernandez a Certificate of Acceptance to sign, officially transferring Tuluwat to the Wiyot Tribal Council and the tribe as a whole. Seaman and Hernandez embraced after the momentous moment. Tribal Elder Seidner finally welcomed her tribe home as her family joined her in front of the stage to sing their “Coming Home” song. 

“Like I said, we’re all family, no matter how you look at that.” Hernandez said. “I want you all to know that. We are all family.”

 

 

 







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