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

For over two years the City of Eureka has been discussing returning Tuluwat, aka Indian Island — once home to two Wiyot villages and the site of the brutal massacre of as many as 250 Wiyot people in 1860 — to the tribe that considers it the center of the world.

This discussion will once again go before the Eureka City Council on Dec. 4, and this time it looks like the council will start taking concrete steps forward.

On Monday, the Eureka Planning Commission voted to recommend that the City Council declare 202.3 acres of city-owned land on Indian Island “surplus property,” which would  be the first legal step required before the transfer of the land to the Wiyot can move forward.

This process has been ongoing since April 2015, when the council agreed in principle to transfer the land. This discussion was prompted by a letter sent to Mayor Frank Jager by Tribal Chair Theodore Hernandez that asked for a discussion and public comment regarding the land’s ownership.

“As you are aware, the island is of tremendous cultural and spiritual significance to the Wiyot Tribe,” the letter stated.

The city has been willing to oblige, especially since the land in question is not currently being used for anything. Because the property is zoned “Natural Resources,” is largely tidal wetland and can only be accessed by boat, it is not good for any kind of conventional development.

From Eureka City Staff report.

There is, however, a specific process that the city must go through before transferring the land to the Wiyot Tribe. California State Government code requires that the City first offer to sell the property to other government entities. In the case of Indian Island, it must be to agencies interested in using it for open spaces purposes.

Development Services director Rob Holmlund told the Outpost that the city has offered the land to the California Department of Parks and Recreation, the California Natural Resources Agency and Humboldt County Parks. Holmlund said that, so far, none of them have expressed an interest.

However, there is one person who has expressed an interest: local real estate tycoon Rob Arkley, who last year announced his intention to purchase the island. Arkley protested to the idea of Eureka “giving away” the island “to the Natives.”

Many people were outraged by Arkley’s statements, which sparked a community protest and a scathing response letter from the Arcata-based Seventh Generation Fund.

But even with Arkley’s gumption, Holmlund says we probably need not worry about him purchasing the island. “We are not required to offer it to any private entities,” Holmlund said.

Holmlund explained that the intention of this process is to transfer the land to the Wiyot tribe and that is what the city wants to do. But the city has to follow the processes required by the California state codes.

There is the possibility, however, that one of the government agencies will decide they are interested in purchasing the property. Eureka Assistant City Attorney Autumn Luna told the Outpost that the agencies have 60 days to notify the city if they decide to make an offer. So, it won’t be until late January at the earliest that the actual transfer can begin.

But both Luna and Holmlund seem pretty confident that the Island will go to the Wiyot Tribe as intended.

Luna admitted that following the process outlined by state codes is a bit of a hassle and said it would be nice if there was an easier way, especially since the Wiyot Tribe has stated that they plan to use the land for its intended purpose: Preserving open spaces.

The agenda for the Eureka City Council meeting has not yet been posted, but Holmlund said that the council will be discussing this item on Tuesday, Dec. 4 at Eureka City Hall, 531 K Street. Meetings start at 6 p.m.