California city returns island to Native American tribe after more than 150 years

A sacred island off the coast of Northern California was officially returned to a Native American tribe on Monday after more than 150 years.

The Associated Press reports the small island is considered the center of the spiritual and physical universe to the Wiyot Tribe, which was deeded the land in a packed signing ceremony.

“It’s a really good example of resilience because Wiyot people never gave up the dream,” tribal administrator Michelle Vassel said, according to the AP. “It’s a really good story about healing and about coming together, of community.”

The now-600 member tribe has revered the island for decades after it was decimated following a raid by settlers in 1860. The tribe has made small efforts to reclaim the lost land since then, with the city of Eureka giving the tribe more land in more recent years.

The city has no use for the island, which can become submerged during high tides. The tribe’s reservation is located in Loleta, which at times can take hours to reach by boat.

The signing of the deed on Monday gives the tribe almost the entirety of the island — roughly 200 acres — at no cost.

“For our city, it’s the right thing to do, and that’s why we’re doing it,” said Councilwoman Kim Bergel, the AP noted. “Certainly, it’s been far too long.”

The tribe previously bought 1.5 acres of the land from the city in 2000 for $106,000, according to the AP.

The land transfer comes as indigenous tribes and communities across the country have lost millions of acres of land through treaties broken by the U.S. government, by force and other reasons, with the land rarely given back to the original holders.

The signing of the deed was celebrated with a prayer, a traditional Native American dance and cheers from a crowd.

The tribe intends to use the island for native plant growth as well as for ceremonies.

Vassel said receiving the land is important to helping the greater community come together.

“It was never vile, us versus them,” Vassel said. “It was more about healing the community, healing the land. We all live in this community together.”

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