Native Leaders Say Land Restitution Is Result of Reconciliation Gathering

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Three years after the prayer meeting, the Wiyot Tribe was given 40 acres of land on the site of a 144-year-old Indian massacre
A leader of California’s Wiyot Tribe credits a 2001 prayer and reconciliation meeting with paving the way for the historic transfer of a sacred land site where scores of Native Americans were massacred nearly 150 years ago.

On May 18, the Eureka, Calif., city council voted unanimously to return to the Wiyot Tribe 40 acres of Indian Island, located off the coast of northern California. Nearly 500 people attended the official deed-signing ceremony June 25.

Amid cheers, Eureka Mayor Peter La Vallee signed over the deed to the Indian Island property to Cheryl A. Seidner, chairwoman of the Wiyot Tribe. Then they exchanged gifts in a gesture of goodwill.

“I think what we are doing is reinventing history,” La Vallee said, the Associated Press (AP) reported. “You can’t say you’re sorry, but 144 years later, we can say it wasn’t right and honor the culture of the tribe and its roots.”

Historical documents show that on Feb. 22, 1860, a band of white men invaded the Wiyot village at night, killing scores of elders, women and children as they slept. Seidner said more Indians were killed in two other massacres on nearby South Spit and at the mouth of the Eel River.

“We lost our regalia, our elders, our weavers and our dreamers–all the things that make a community,” Seidner said, the AP reported. “We have not danced since that day. We have to relearn. I can’t wait for that first dance.”

The tribal leader credits a reconciliation conference in 2001 with creating an atmosphere that made the deed-signing ceremony possible. In May of that year, a group of pastors with the Humboldt Evangelical Alliance (HEAL) invited the Native American ministry Wiconi International, based in Vancouver, Wash., to facilitate a time of healing and reconciliation between evangelical churches in Humboldt County, the Wiyot and other First Nations people in the region. Wiconi led a three-day event at Arcata First Baptist Church.

During this event more than 75 people came together to pray over the Indian Island site. Fern Noble, a Cree and Native Representative for the International Reconciliation Coalition in Los Angeles, told participants: “We must allow the Holy Spirit to heal the wound so we can all come together as one, as God the Creator intended.”

During the 2001 conference, members of HEAL honored the Wiyot Tribal Council of Table Bluff Reservation with gifts and a commitment in writing to work with the tribe to get back this sacred site.

First Baptist’s pastor, Clay Ford, said that when he first heard about the massacre, he and some colleagues wanted to apologize to the tribal leaders.

“It’s dawning on more and more Christians to see the need … for us to repent for the sins of the past,” Ford said, the AP reported. “I wrote a proclamation of repentance acknowledging that though we personally weren’t there when the massacre happened, we represented Christian people and churches who did nothing, as far as we could tell, to make things right. And we apologized and asked for forgiveness.”

When Ford’s proclamation was presented to the Wiyot during the reconciliation meeting, the tribe also was given $1,000. Many churches and individuals continued to pray for the Wiyot and to raise funds to help them purchase the land on Indian Island, a goal they had been working toward since the 1970s. They had purchased 1-1/2 acres before the city voted to give them 40 acres.

“As I have been told, this has not happened in any city in the state of California, and I’m hearing that this might be something really new across the nation,” Seidner said. “I don’t know … for sure.”

Richard Twiss, president of Wiconi International and keynote speaker at the 2001 conference, said the land restitution is “the fruit of following traditional indigenous protocol in presenting the redemptive message of faith and hope in Jesus Christ as Healer, Great Spirit and Chief Shepherd of all tribes and nations.”
Jim Uttley Jr.

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