Protesters Take Over 5th Street in Eureka to Support Wiyot Tribe

Sep 19, 2017

It started with burning of sage and several supporters gathering around the small Security National building on Eureka's fifth street. The building is owned by Rob Arkley, a local real estate tycoon who wanted to purchase a property known as Indian Island from Eureka instead of the city transferring it to the Wiyot Tribe. Within a few hours the crowd multiplied with nearly 100 protesters lining both sides of the street near the E Street intersection. 

Previously, another set of protests occurred earlier Tuesday morning in support of undocumented immigrants residing in Humboldt County. This specific protest highlighted the importance of solidarity with the Wiyot Tribe and its mission to have Indian Island, known as Tuluwat returned to its original native residents. Tuluwat, is the name of one ancient village that was originally located on Indian Island. The other village was called Epidolh. The 1860 Wiyot massacre occurred on the Tuluwat where more than 80 Wiyot people were brutally murdered. Similar attacks continued with approximately 250 Wiyot people being killed by white settlers in the region. 

Protestors like Johanna Johnson said the land was sacred to the Wiyot people and said she was at the rally to support tribal members who have been working with the city to transfer the land back. 

Rush hour traffic in Eureka did not stop protesters from supporting the Wiyot Tribe and its acquisition of Tuluwat, also known as Indian Island.
Credit Natalya Estrada

"It's their land, their ancestors are buried there. That's their land and it needs to be given back," she said.

Many people stood on the sidewalks during rush hour traffic to support tribal members but also to speak out against Arkley who said in July, to the radio station KINS, that he would be offering over the appraised value to the city for the property. 

During his original conversation with KINS, he stated he and his children used Indian Island and that Eureka was doing a disservice to the community if they transferred the property to the Wiyot people. 

"They're giving away a surplus property," Arkley said during the interview. "That's fine, but in time that's an asset that's gone from the public forever (...)" 

Chairman of the Wiyot Tribe, Ted Hernandez said that although the city plans to honor their agreement with the Wiyot Tribe and transfer the land to them, it was still important to support tribal members during protests and public events. 

Chairman of the Wiyot Tribe Ted Hernandez speaks to a large crowd of protesters about the importance of healing their community through collaborative efforts with the city of Eureka.
Credit Natalya Estrada

"This is a process of healing, with the Wiyot Tribe and the city of Eureka working together the healing has started. Bring back Tuluwat so the healing has started," Hernandez said. "It's not to one individual but for the whole community. It's a healing process, that's why we're all standing together in unity. Let the healing process begin." 

Local assembly delegate for the California Democratic Party in Humboldt County, Allen McCloskey, said he was there to show that the party stood with indigenous people and supported tribal rights and tribal sovereignty.

"More importantly, today is about standing in solidarity with the Wiyot people and the city council that they are in fact making the right decision to return Indian Island, to return Tuluwat, to the original inhabitants, the original stewards after it was so wrongfully and so unjustly taken from them," he said. McClosky also said that Eureka City Council members received an offer from Arkley but that it wasn't something they were taking into consideration. "They are committed to returning Indian Island to the Wiyot People." 

McClosky further stated the protest called public attention for others to notice the "ugly face of bigotry and racial contempt that Arkley expressed toward the Wiyot people."

Arkley was not present at the protest, but previously responded to the backlash over his proposal to purchase Indian Island in an interview with the Times-Standard. He said he was stunned by the whole thing and did not understand. Arkley said he "(did not) have anything against the Indians, (but that) the issue is access for people and fair price."

In 2000 the Wiyot Tribe purchased 1.5 acres of Indian Island through grassroots efforts. In 2004, the tribe receied more than 40 acres from the city of Eureka. The Eureka City Council decided in 2016 unanimously to return the rest of the land to the Wiyot People.