Trinidad Memorial Lighthouse faces relocation conflict with Tsurai Ancestral Society

Dec 29, 2017


Tribal members and supporters of the Tsurai Ancestral Society protest the relocation of the Trinidad Memorial Lighthouse which is set to be stationed temporarily at the Tsurai Ancestral Village in Trinidad.
Credit Natalya Estrada

The City of Trinidad moved forward with plans to relocate the Trinidad Memorial Lighthouse. The Lighhouse was determined last year by geological reviews to be on unstable ground because an active slide under the structure could cause it to fall off the bluff and into the ocean. But for the second day in a row, construction workers were met with protests. This included four individuals who ventured on top of the lighthouse structure, and also involved  from local Tsurai tribal members who say the new location is an infringement on their ancestral land.

Axel Lindgren III, a direct descendant of the Tsurai people buried in the ancestral village and tribal chairman of the Tsurai Ancestral Society says that this isn’t a new issue and that the Tsuari have discussed the Lighthouse’s unstable location for years.

“We’ve been fighting with them for years, just over the last few years about the lighthouse and how its causing the destabilization of the hillside,” Lindgren said. “When they say its an emergency move, it’s not an emergency move, that’s a lie to get around CEQA. We made them aware of the slippage that’s been going on for years.”


Construction to relocate the Trinidad Memorial Lighthouse continued even with four protesters camped out on the structure.
Credit Natalya Estrada

The decision to relocate the Lighthouse 20 feet northeast of its location, near the Tsurai Ancestral Village, was made between the city, the Trinidad Civic Club—who technically own the land, and a cultural monitor form the Yurok Tribe. However, Lindgren said the Tsurai did not agree to this decision and that it ultimately disenfranchises their burial ground.

“They don’t care about the indian people. It’s too bad that they have to think that way. In 1916 the Tsurai people were kicked off the property here and removed. And I don’t understand why people have to be so racist," Lindgren said.

However, Patti Fleschner, who works to preserve the lighthouse for the Trinidad Civic Club, said the matter is not about racism or discrimination but instead about keeping the lighthouse intact and temporally moving it so it does not fall into the ocean or worse, on the Tsurai Ancestral Village.

“No one’s trying to desecrate or disrespect anything. We’re trying to preserve the site below so that the lighthouse doesn’t fall down the hill. It’s not something the Civic Club wants to do at all. It’s expensive, it’s stressful,” Fleschner said. “We’re just human altogether in this community and the civic club is very much a service organization, its community oriented. We’d been advised about this emergency and we had to act and we had to act proactively.”

Moving the lighthouse is a priority for the city as well, and city manager Dan Berman says relocating the lighthouse was in response to geologic studies which warned the structure was in serious danger of sliding over the bluff. Out of respect and concern for the cultural and historic significance, Berman says numerous discussions happened prior to deciding to move it to the Tsurai Ancestral Village.

“I didn’t anticipate this level of response because I didn’t see this move of the lighthouse over as being the insult, I guess, to the cultural resources there to the people that apparently. (But) clearly people are taking it as,” Berman said, but also added that the civic club made the appropriate emergency response in deciding to relocate the lighthouse.


Tribal member of the Tsurai Ancestral Society and granddaughter of Axel Lindgren III holds up a sign that reads "All graves matter" to signify that relocation of the Trinidad Memorial Lighthouse to the Tsurai Ancestral Village disrespects those buried at their sacred historical site.
Credit Natalya Estrada

Meanwhile, protests continue at the construction site where Tsurai tribal members and supporters stage protests at the foot of the lighthouse in Trinidad. Tia Orsos Peters, executive director for the Seventh Generation Fund for Indigenous People said the Tsurai have a right to protest and that the whole area is a resting place for thousands of indigenous people and must be respected. 

“The emergency action was a smart little technical move that the city did, in order to abrogate rights in order to not go under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) as well as address other kinds of issues in the area. So they got it on a technical little loophole currently, but indigenous people clearly are ready to take action and are taking action to protect their rights,” Orsos Peters said.

While the city and civic club plan to continue the relocation, Orsos Peters said moving the lighthouse 20 feet will not change the Tsuari's belief that it doesn’t belong on native land.