The Eureka City Council moved forward at tonight’s meeting with the transfer of Indian Island land to the Wiyot tribe.
With a unanimous vote, the council declared more than 200 acres on the island as “surplus property,” a step required to ultimately transfer the land back to the tribe.
Many members of the Wiyot tribe were at the meeting, including tribal Chair Ted Hernandez.
“I’m not calling it surplus; it’s sacred lands,” he said. “It’s time to heal.”
Hernandez said there are Wiyot elders who have been working to have the land transferred back to the Wiyot since “we began the reservation in ’89.”
“That’s a tremendous thing,” he said, commending the city’s efforts to commence the transfer. “That shows a working bond that we have … our staff has worked hard together.”
Another member of the public, in what seemed to be an attempt to ease concerns about how the land would be used, said, “We cannot offer any more than our word that we are not going to destroy this land.”
“This is not a piece of extra land, to us it is much, much more,” she said. “You have your church, you have your synagogue, this is our sacred land, this is where we find peace … a great wrong was done, and we wish to make amends.”
Council members expressed support and joy at the prospect of transferring the land.
Councilwoman Heidi Messner was happy to see a full council chamber. Nodding to the pursuit of historic justice, Messner said that for what has happened in the past, “I’d personally like to see reconciliation.”
Councilwoman Natalie Arroyo recognized the sometimes too slow pace formal proceedings take and apologized for the lengthy process.
“It’s been a long process to get here,” she said. “This council has expressed multiple times their intent to follow through with this process.”
Arroyo said she “hopes we set a precedent that other people can follow.”
Councilman Austin Allison said this move was “a long time coming.”
“It belongs to the Wiyot people,” he said. “This needed to happen, I’m glad I can vote on this tonight.”
Philip Santos can be reached at 707-441-0506.