Yesterday we reported that Eureka was all set to apologize for the 1860 Indian Island Massacre. The move seemed a powerful and, many would argue, overdue gesture, something in the spirit of the U.S. government’s apologies for slavery, the Chinese Exclusion Act (heads up on that front, too, Eureka) and Japanese internment camps.
We also published a draft of the letter, which read, in part, that Eureka “would like to offer a formal apology to the Wiyot people for the actions of our people in 1860.”
Earlier today, city staff just sent us a new draft of the letter, and all signs of apology are gone. Let’s do a little compare-and-contrast.
Dear Members of the Wiyot Tribe:
In February 1860, 154 years ago, citizens from Eureka participated in what has been described as a massacre of unfathomable proportions. On that winter night long ago, the Wiyot people of Humboldt Bay were attacked. That incident resulted in the death of scores of mostly women and children on the tribal island in Humboldt Bay. Worse yet, this attack occurred during the Wiyot Renewal Ceremony to bring healing to the Earth. The ceremony was never finished.
And here’s the opening of the new draft:
Dear Members of the Wiyot Tribe:
On a winter night 154 years ago, the Wiyot people of Humboldt Bay were attacked.
By whom, you ask? The letter doesn’t say.
That incident resulted in the death of scores of mostly women and children on the Tribal island on Humboldt Bay. This attack occurred during the Wiyot Renewal Ceremony to bring healing to the Earth. The ceremony was never finished.
The second paragraph is the same in both versions:
Today the people of Eureka are pleased to see the World Renewal Ceremony, that was cut short in 1860, will at last be finished. The ceremony will take place on island land deeded to the Wiyot people in 2004.
One quick side note: While Eureka did, in fact, deed 40 acres back to the Wiyot Tribe in 2004, the tribe had already purchased 1.5 acres in 2000 for $106,000. A tribal spokesman today said the renewal ceremony will take place “in a few different sites,” possibly including the purchased portion of the island.
Back to the letters. The first draft closed strong with an unqualified apology and an acknowledgement that prejudice persists:
As Mayor of Eureka, on behalf of the City Council and the people of Eureka, we would like to offer a formal apology to the Wiyot people for the actions of our people in 1860. Nothing we say or do can make up for what occurred on that night of infamy. It will forever be a scar on our history. We can, however, with our present and future actions of support for the Wiyot, work to remove the prejudice and bigotry that still exists in our society today.
And here’s the new version:
As Mayor of Eureka, on behalf of the City Council and the people of Eureka, we offer our support to the Wiyot Tribe and re-affirm our commitment toward healing the Wiyot people’s wounds and continuing to work toward establishing better relationships rooted in reconciliation. The continuation of the Wiyot Renewal Ceremony is a step toward the healing of the wounds that have been a scar on our community.
As Mayor, I promise that I will provide the support that is needed to build a solid foundation for positive relations, now and in the future, between the City of Eureka and the Wiyot Tribe.
The “formal apology” has been replaced by “support” and a “commitment toward healing.” Yesterday it seemed the massacre was “a scar on our history” that would last forever. Today, things are looking up. Our communal wounds are on the mend. Better yet, there’s no sign of prejudice or bigotry in today’s society.
Both letters were reportedly written by Mayor Frank Jager. Asked about the changes this afternoon, Jager sounded a bit flustered. All he would say for the record was that, “in meeting with the city attorney [and] staff, they felt the language was a little strong and should be a little different.”
Hmm. Could an apology expose the city to liability claims? “You’d have to talk to [the city attorney] about that,” Jager said.
We prodded a bit, saying that the initial letter seemed like such a strong and admirable statement compared to the neutered revision. Jager softened a bit, saying something about “the society we live in.” And as for the softened language, he said, “I’m disappointed, too.”