Nearly 160 years after White settlers massacred members of Northern California’s Wiyot Tribe on Indian Island—which the tribe calls its “spiritual and physical center of the universe”— the land has finally been returned to the tribe. In a signing ceremony on Monday (October 21), the city of Eureka deeded all the land it owned in the Humboldt Bay region back to the Wiyots, who have populated that land for thousands of years.

This reclamation of more than 200 acres represents the end of a long-fought battle that started when the land was taken from the Wiyots, then misused and destroyed over the next century by shipyard contamination and invasive species. In 2000, the tribe purchased 1.5 acres of the historic village site of Tuluwat with the help of grassroots fundraising. In 2004, the Eureka City Council unanimously voted to return the northeastern tip of Indian Island, approximately 45 acres, to the Wiyots. It’s a move that protected it from outside development.  

“It’s a really good example of resilience because Wiyot people never gave up the dream,” tribal administrator Michelle Vassel told The Associated Press following the ceremony. Tribal chair Ted Hernandez echoed the sentiment: “We knew our ancestors were still there. We can feel them, saying ‘We are watching you, we know that what you are doing is correct.’ It’s a peaceful feeling.”