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July 1, 2004


In a world off center


There's a resolution working its way through the U.S. Senate right now -- S.J.RES.37. Officially titled "Apology to Native peoples," it serves to "acknowledge a long history of official depredations and ill-conceived policies by the U.S. government regarding Indian tribes and offers an apology to all Native Peoples on behalf of the United States."

In a long series of whereases, the bill states the obvious: "Native Peoples inhabited the land of the present-day United States since time immemorial and for thousands of years before the arrival of peoples of European descent."

It goes on to point out that "ill-conceived Federal policies such as extermination, termination, forced removal and relocation, the outlawing of traditional religions, and the destruction of sacred places" were not exactly in the best interest of the Native people. In essence it says we're sorry we killed your people and stole your land. It's an apology that is a long overdue.

It took a long time for "peoples of European descent" to even discover Humboldt County, and sad to say, the treatment of the Native people here was just as bad as it was anywhere. Look into the sordid history of the area and you will find that the most notorious episode, the Indian Island Massacre of 1860, was just one in a long series of murderous incidents that wiped out most of the Native people of the region.

Friday afternoon at the Adorni Center the city of Eureka took a step toward an apology to the Wiyot people, giving back a small portion of land that once was theirs. And they accepted graciously, with songs, poems and speeches that showed no bitterness.

It's worth noting that the Wiyot people once occupied the entire greater Humboldt Bay region, including all of the land encompassed by the cities of Eureka, Arcata, Fortuna and Blue Lake. Returning 40 acres of Indian Island, the center of the Wiyot world, was a step in the right direction -- a good first step.

As Wiyot Tribal Chairwoman Cheryl Seidner points out in an interview in this week's Journal, the city of Eureka still owns most of the island. A logical next step would be to investigate the transfer of the remainder of city's interest in the island to the Wiyots as soon as possible.

We should not be held responsible for specific sins of our ancestors, but as a civilized society, we can and should acknowledge past mistakes and help make amends when possible through words of apology and symbolic gestures such as the return of public land of such historic and sacred significance to Native people.

We would also do well to help the Wiyots retrieve artifacts held in local collections and elsewhere, items taken from the island in archeological digs over the years. We can also assist the Wiyots in rebuilding their village on the island by sending a check to the Wiyot Sacred Sites Fund, 1000 Wiyot Drive, Loleta, 95551, or contribute online at

The Wiyot vision is bold. As you will read in this week's cover story, in addition to rebuilding a lost village, they want to rebuild a lost culture. In the process they will revive dances that will help bring a world thrown off-center back into balance.




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