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This is the American massacre you were never taught about in school. This is the genocide that no one was ever held accountable for. Search a “This Day in History” site and you will not find any mention of the original Sunday Bloody Sunday.

On Sunday, February 26th, 1860, the Wiyot tribe of northern California was resting after several days of participating in its week-long World Renewal Ceremony. The ceremony was held on what’s commonly known as Indian Island, or Duluwat to the Wiyot, a small, marshy island near Eureka.

Duluwat was home to two villages, Tuluwat (Toulouwat) and Etpidolh (Etpidalh Watpuroulh). Tuluwat was the site of the annual ceremony. On that Sunday in 1860, knowing that the men were away, six white men crawled ashore with axes, knives, and clubs– quiet weapons that would not alert anyone else to the mass murder they had planned. These were the weapons of cowards who had their eye on that real estate, who blamed the Wiyot and other tribes of stealing their cattle.

These men viciously murdered children, women, and elders in a surprise attack that conveniently coincided with other area massacres that day. Very few survived this slaughter on Duluwat and the incident was nearly swept under the rug. A 2010 article in the North Coast Journal of Politics, People, and Art puts faces on the survivors and dissects the motives. This is the best piece I’ve read on the topic. It tells of the baby found in his murdered mother’s arms, the women who bravely saved three children to stumble upon seven others, the perseverance and forgiveness of the survivors. Depending on the account, 80 to 200 defenseless people were savagely killed.

That day was a turning point for the native peoples of northern California. While there had already been plans and pressure to move the Wiyot off Duluwat, February 26th, 1860 was the day the Wiyot lost the island that their tribe had frequented for a thousand years or more. It seems to have been turned into a dairy farm– no surprise given the real estate designs of some local settlers. Some time later it became a shipyard. It also became a heavily contaminated dumping ground that the Wiyots have spent at least two decades cleaning up.

The EPA has a fascinating document about the efforts to remove all manner of industrial waste and garbage from the site. It includes bits of the tribe’s and Tuluwat’s history. The Wiyots have been slowly buying back the land, an island that literally holds the blood and bones of their ancestors. It has been a labor of love.

Did I say their ancestors? From elementary through high school I was teased about my fair skin. One middle school classmate’s words about “needing to get some sun” are forever scrawled in my yearbook. Kids were cruel about many things but bashing on someone’s genetically-determined skin tone hit a nerve, especially because they were making assumptions about my forebears. Growing up I knew that we grandkids were a small part Native American.

I have never understood the pressure to change one’s skin tone as if God screwed up by making us too dark or too light. I find it odd that so many here in rainy Seattle flock to tanning beds as if we’re supposed to look like we’re in Florida. I love my skin, but we have this Hollywood or Bollywood-fueled concept that all women should move towards some sort of bronzed or golden epidermal ideal somewhere in the middle of the skin spectrum. Ladies, you are beautiful exactly as God made you. We are meant to shine as all colors of the rainbow.

Our grandpa was a tall, dark, and handsome engineer whose mother was a blonde-haired, blue-eyed Scandinavian. His beautiful mother had a nickname for his father referencing the tribe she thought he resembled. But Great-Grandpa was an orphan, his origins shrouded in mystery. We knew bits and pieces, some names, general geographic locations– a scattered and unreliable road map to the past.

I’ve spent a lifetime searching for his people, hitting brick wall after brick wall. We knew he was from northern California. We learned how his father died. A few years ago a wonderful researcher at the Washington State Archives stepped into help and we learned the startling truth of what happened to him and his brother after they lost their parents. We know nothing about their sister. For him to have become the man he was after what he suffered is a testament to his fighting spirit and kind heart.

Thanks to the Archives we found a connection to the Wiyot tribe. There is a genetic link to a common ancestor and documentation signed by that ancestor although some tribal members dispute the connection. Nevertheless, I will continue my research to fill in the gaps in our family’s story. As I try to connect the dots, I wonder if my great-grandfather and his siblings weren’t taken in by either side of the family because they were too light or too dark. I am certain there are still secrets and surprises to be found and healing that needs to happen.

The first time I read the story of the genocide at Duluwat, I was profoundly shaken. I wasn’t reading a high school textbook about people I’d never met in the Midwest. This wasn’t one of the mass murders I’d written about for my M.A. This happened to my family. Being an American, I come from many peoples and some of those peoples have enslaved and killed each other throughout the centuries. But this was more recent, more local, on American soil, and all of the suspects got away with it.

I’m not an advocate of reparations and I believe in moving forward. But somehow an ancient island, a very specific and sacred place, being taken by mass murder at a sacred time was an unconscionable cliffhanger. It was like when a TV show ends without telling you what happened to any of the major characters– except hellishly worse. It invoked a particular feeling that I mentioned in my 2013 blog post When You Know It’s Murder:

Accepting some of these circumstances as “solved” though—it hasn’t happened yet. Perhaps we who question the “truth” are who God intends to bring justice through. There are times when I’m thinking through some of these cases and that old familiar translucent twilight sidles up next to me. In that particular kind of silence I’m reminded that something still isn’t right, and the truth might have yet to be found. It’s like a door hasn’t closed yet, or a window latch has come undone in a forgotten room and a breeze is rustling old, worn curtains that should have been taken down 30 years ago.

There is no individual alive who can truly apologize for what happened on Duluwat. The descendants of the suspects are not responsible and have no obligation to be involved. The City of Eureka did issue a formal apology in recent years, and it was fitting for a government agency to finally recognize the tragedy.

Today the apology went a step further. At 10 A.M. this morning, the City of Eureka and the Wiyot tribe held a ceremony at which the city council voted to return Duluwat to the Wiyots. It took almost 160 years for the tribe to get this land back. Despite this rare and momentous gesture that rewarded many years of the tribe’s hard work, media coverage is sparse. The British press picked up the story right away, though, with The Guardian declaring “California city returns island taken from native tribe in 1860 massacre.”

It’s a really good example of resilience because Wiyot people never gave up the dream… It’s a really good story about healing and about coming together of community.

Michelle Vassel, Tribal Administrator

From a distance, from an unacknowledged seat in the bleachers, I rejoiced with the Wiyot today. I can do this as an American. I can do this as a fellow human being. I can do this as an advocate for and fierce believer in a God of justice. But I also did this for my grandfather. I did this for my great-grandfather who was too young to remember his people. I cheered for a family I may never know. I rejoiced with a people I’ve spent most of a lifetime looking for– the people who I thought of every time another classmate took a jab at my complexion.

Well done, Wiyot people. Well done.

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This simple marker commemorates the massacre.

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©2019 H. Hiatt/wildninjablog.com. All articles/posts on this blog are copyrighted original material that may not be reproduced in part or whole in any electronic or printed medium without prior permission from H. Hiatt/wildninjablog.com.

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Native American Tribes

Today I shared this powerful editorial from the Native Sun News Editorial Board in Rapid City, South Dakota, with a group concerned about Indian affairs. Yes, many Americans and organizations still use the term Indian even though it’s not politically correct.

In recent years there has been increased pressure from the NCAA and others to remove references to Indians from sports and other venues. The very Native Americans these politically correct Pharisees seek to protect sometimes don’t want things changed. You might remember my related discussion of the University of North Dakota’s mascot in my 2011 post The Fighting Sioux.

To date, we still don’t have a new name, and school uniforms have looked sadly blank and generic since the removal of the traditional Native/Indian logo. This sanitizing of modern culture is wiping time-honored Native/Indian references out, and as this wonderfully sharp-tongued opinion piece asks, is it the predominantly white media that’s done that, or Indians themselves?

As I said to the group I was speaking to, as someone with Native American roots among my many European ancestors, I read this and said, “oh yeah!”

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Native American vs. American Indian: Political correctness dishonors traditional chiefs of old

Who decided for us that we should be called “Native Americans?”

It was the mainstream media of course. One day a reporter was interviewing an East Coast Indian and the reporter said, “Indian” and the East Coast Indian said, “No, we don’t like to be called Indians because we got that name when Columbus thought he landed in India: We prefer to be called Native Americans.”

“Well,” the reporter replied, “I am of Irish descent but I was born in America so therefore I also am a Native American.” And so when the story was published the Indian people were labeled as Native Americans. The white media had finally pulled one over the indigenous people.

The Lee Enterprise newspapers, and there are several of them in Indian Country, decided to cut this down even further and they told all of their reporters, editors and publishers to just use the word “Native” when referring to Indians, or to be politically correct, Native Americans. So when you read an article that goes, “He was a Native Rapid City guy” that doesn’t mean he was Native, it just means that he was native. In fact everyone who lives in Rapid City is a native.

The activist Russell Means preferred the name American Indian. He would say that just as you have Mexican Americans, African Americans, or Asian Americans, you should have American Indians.

During the activist days of the 1960s and 70s the U. S. Government responded to the activists’ protests by proposing the term “Native American.” And so the anti-government activists decided to accept the name Native American, a name suggested by the United States Government, a government that they despised. Say what?

The other arguable explanation was Columbus’s use of the term “una gest in Dios” or “a people in God” which was reduced to “Indios” for every day usage by the Spaniards and later was further changed to “Indian” as the word moved north. And what’s more we hear that in 1492 Columbus could not have thought he had reached the Indies because at that time there was no Indies, but they instead were called Hindustan.

That sad part of this entire fiasco is that so many of the so-called “elitist Indians” have allowed themselves to be bullied into using the name “Native Americans” and even “Native” by a white media that seems to have set the agenda for what we should be called.

One elderly Lakota man from the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation said recently, “If some Indians want to be called Native Americans or Natives, let them be called that, but I was born an Indian and I shall die an Indian.

So if you travel to any Indian reservation out west you will soon discover that nearly all of the indigenous people refer to themselves as “Indian,” especially the elders who are still fluent in their Indian language. As Chief Oliver Red Cloud said a few years before he died, “I am Lakota and I am Indian.”

As an Indian newspaper we must be very careful that what we call ourselves is not dictated to us by the white media. We have been Indians for a few hundred years and the name carries our history. Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull and Little Wound (Read their quotes) all called themselves “Indian” and they said it with pride. Should we dishonor them by saying they were wrong?

Political correctness be damned: We will use “Indian” if and when we choose. We will not be intimidated by the politically correct bunch or the white media.

The Native Sun News Editorial Board can be reached at editor@nsweekly.com

The Native Sun News is based in Rapid City, S.D.

Copyright permission Native Sun News

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©2015 H. Hiatt/wildninjablog.com. All articles/posts on this blog are copyrighted original material that may not be reproduced in part or whole in any electronic or printed medium without prior permission from H. Hiatt/wildninjablog.com.

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