At an emotional and moving meeting last night, the Eureka City Council took the next steps toward returning Tuluwat, aka Indian Island, back to the Wiyot people.

The council voted unanimously to surplus 202.3 acres of city-owned property on the island, a required step toward the eventual transfer of the land back to the tribe. A crowd packed into the council chambers rewarded the council’s decision with heartfelt applause.

Indian Island. Photo: Ellin Beltz, public domain. Via Wikimedia Commons.

Many people, both tribal members and other community members, spoke in support of transferring the land. Some were even moved to tears. Wiyot Tribal Chair Ted Hernandez was the first to make public comment, beginning by stating “I’m not calling it surplus. It’s sacred lands.”

Hernandez expressed deep gratitude for the City taking the needed steps toward transferring the land, which the Wiyot tribe considers the center of the world. He also addressed the possibility of the tribe developing the land, which was brought up earlier in the meeting.

“We wouldn’t put anything there,” Hernandez said to the council. “Why would we disturb that land? It’s been disturbed enough. Our ancestors need to be put to rest.”

Wiyot Tribe Cultural Liaison Cheryl Seidner also spoke during the public comment period, requesting that the council please say yes to returning the land, which the Wiyot to plan to use for sacred ceremonies.

Seidner then asked if the council would allow her time to sing a song. Joined at the podium by two Hernadez and another tribe member, Seidner filled the council chambers with the tribe’s “Coming Home” song, during which every person stood up to show their respect.

Wiyot tribe members sing their ‘Coming Home’ Song in front of the Eureka City Council.

With the council’s vote, the land in question is one step closer to being transferred to the Wiyot people. However, there are still some formalities that may get in the way.  Because of California State Government code, the City is required to first offer to sell the land to other government entities.

So far none of them have expressed any interest. But the City is required to provide a 60 day period for those agencies to respond, of which about a month is left. So, the transfer process will not be able to begin until at least January. However, with no responses so far, the outlook is good for the transfer to proceed as planned.

Several of the city council members expressed joy to be taking concrete steps in this process, which has been ongoing since first brought before the council in April 2015.

“I’m so moved and excited to be a piece of this,” councilmember Kim Bergel said. “I’m so grateful that we are at a place in our city and in our world where we can do this. Where we can move forward in such a positive direction, in such a healing direction in such a divisive time.”

You can view the full meeting video here.