When a few canoes carrying a group of Wiyot tribal members to Indian Island cross the choppy waters of Humboldt Bay in March, it will not look as if anything particularly special is happening.
The nondescript, flat, marshy 275-acre island sits beneath a bridge upon which traffic whizzes by on busy Route 255. But what will take place will be remarkable: 153 years after Indian Island was the site of a brutal massacre of the Wiyot, it will bear witness to a ceremony of rebirth and testament of survival for a people brought to the brink of extinction.
For three days, beginning March 28, the Wiyot plan to perform a world renewal ceremony on the island. It will be the first time since the massacre that the ceremony — which once stood at the center of the tribe’s cultural life — has been performed, healing a gap of more than a century and a half.
For the tribe’s current members, it’s especially meaningful that the ceremony will take place on the very land where so many of their ancestors were killed.
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