By: Sherry Lippiatt
It was a devastating and defining event in the history of the indigenous Wiyot people. Under the cover of darkness on February 26, 1860, a massacre, by non-native settlers claimed 200 Wiyot at the Indian Island village of Tuluwat in Humboldt Bay, California. In the 150 years since the massacre, Tuluwat has been subsequently been diked and drained for agricultural use, used as a dry-dock boat facility, subjected to decades of toxic chemical and waste disposal, and disturbed by amateur archaeological investigations. In 2000, the Wiyot purchased back the 1.5 acre site at Tuluwat, and four years later, the city of Eureka gave the tribe another 60 acres of Indian Island.
What does this have to do with marine debris? Since recovering ownership of this sacred site, the tribe has overseen significant cleanup and restoration efforts as part of the Indian Island Cultural and Environmental Restoration Project (IICERP). Last year, through NOAA’s Restoration Center community-based marine debris removal program, the Wiyot received funding to remove the last remnant debris at Tuluwat. With NOAA Marine Debris Program (MDP) support, large marine railways, dock pilings, and pieces of dilapidated buildings will be removed. The project site sits atop an ancient midden – or shell mound – full of remnants of meals, tools, and ceremonies, as well as many burial sites. The surrounding vast area of salt marsh is not only a sacred place with religious and cultural significance to the Wiyot, but it is home to ecologically important fish habitat and eel grass beds. The MDP is pleased to have this opportunity to support the Wiyot and help restore this special place.
The ultimate goal of the IICERP is to restore the annual World Renewal Ceremony on Indian Island. This year, for the first time in more than 150 years, the Wiyot will dance at Tuluwat from March 28-30 to celebrate new beginnings and the healing process of not only the island, but the tribe itself. Soon after the ceremony, contractors will begin removing of some of the last remaining debris, restoring the geographic and ceremonial center of the Wiyot universe.