Duluwat Island was once home to the Wiyot people. Just after California’s famed Gold Rush, a horrific massacre took place there. The surviving Wiyot left. Today, tribal members have reclaimed much of the area—and gained a community along with it.
Duluwat, also known as Indian Island, sits off the coast of Northern California. The closest city is Eureka, named in tribute to its mining history. (Eureka means, “I have found it!”) The Wiyot people used Duluwat for fishing and for a yearly dance ceremony. Today, Duluwat is mostly marshland and shell-based mounds. The Wiyot piled up shell fragments collected from the ocean. Over thousands of years, the shell mounds transformed Duluwat’s landscape—adding acreage to the island.
In 1860, European-American immigrants nearly wiped out the Wiyot. Elders, women, and children died during a raid while the tribe’s men were away gathering supplies. Reports at the time said that the killings were revenge for Wiyot cattle-stealing.
After the massacre, the island became a shipyard. It functioned that way from 1870 through the 1980s. Some Wiyot tribe members said they weren’t allowed to return to the island.
American Indian tribes lost millions of acres of land. Military force and treaties broken by the U.S. government account for much of that loss. But tribes also exchanged land for federal services such as health care and education. According to Cris Stainbrook, president of the Indian Land Tenure Foundation, Native Americans rarely get their land back. Most tribes must buy land as it comes up for sale.
The Wiyot Tribe wanted to regain Duluwat. Members began fundraising in 1998. They sold art and fry bread and accepted donations. In 2000, the tribe bought one and a half acres of the island. Batteries, lead paint, chemicals, and scrap metal littered the site—contamination left from the former shipyard.
It’s human sin nature to want to hurt those who hurt us. But Jesus shows His followers a better way: loving one’s neighbor. (Matthew 22:39)
Together, the tribe and Eureka community members removed debris and tainted soil. Officials deemed the land safe in 2014. The Wiyot began occupying parts of the island.
This fall, Eureka city officials gave more than 200 acres—including acreage on Duluwat Island—back to their Wiyot neighbors. “It’s the right thing to do,” says Councilwoman Kim Bergel. “It’s been far too long.” Now the Wiyot own almost the whole island and some surrounding land.
The tribe imagines Duluwat as a place where the whole community can gather. “It was never . . . us versus them,” says tribal administrator Michelle Vassel. “We all live in this community together.”