Cheryl Seidner is Cultural Liaison and Councilwoman for the Wiyot Tribe in Humboldt County, California. She agreed to an interview and on September 8, 2015, we sat down in her home to discuss the Wiyot Tribe and its history. It is a history that includes perhaps the most heinous atrocity ever committed in the history of the Cascadia bioregion, a massacre that almost wiped out the entire Wiyot Tribe on February 26, 1850. In this remarkable interview Cheryl Seidner talks frankly about that event, Wiyot history and how they have persevered. I am grateful to her and the Wiyot Tribe for this access and for their remarkable story.
In the interview’s first segment, after a brief introduction, she responded to a question about the history of the Wiyot Tribe. She talked about how she “pestered” her Maternal Grandmother for information about the Tribe’s traditional ways. She shared a brief version of a Wiyot creation myth and discussed the difference between her traditional notion of stewardship as opposed to the “newcomers” notion of land ownership. She also discussed the importance of redwood trees for the Wiyot people. She recommended the book Little White Father for more details on the era just after first contact. Listen to Part 1 – 7:52
In the second segment she discussed massacres in 1852 and 1860. She said the reason non-indigenous people remember the February 26, 1860, Tulawat/Indian Island massacre was likely because it was chronicled by Bret Harte in newspapers in San Francisco and New York and because he was aghast at what had happened and that no one was held accountable. Cheryl’s Great-Grandfather was a baby at the time of the massacre and a survivor. She discussed the Wiyot “Trail of Tears” the march to Del Norte County where Wiyot survivors were taken after the massacres, though Wiyots always returned to Humboldt County. Listen to Part 2 8:01
In the third segment Cheryl discussed how the massacre happened during a Wiyot ritual, the World Renewal Ceremony, a seven to ten day ceremony to “put the world right.” She likened it to a communion ritual. She responded to a question as to how she could calmly discuss such a horrific act by, in part, pointing to her parents as examples of how to deal with such history. Listen to Part 3 10:26
In Part four she discussed how a nephew was injured after someone spiked a tree, how the World Renewal Ceremony which did not conclude in 1860, was conducted again in March 2014. She discussed the limited nature of the more recent ceremony, three days, her own ancestry which includes women doctors and judges and how she got help for the ceremony from other tribes, Yurok and Hoopa included. Listen to Part 4 6:26
In the 5th segment she discussed the composition of the current Wiyot Tribe, how about 120 tribal members live on the reservation, how some members live in other states and countries, and the effort to buy back former property, one of the massacre sites, from the city of Eureka, part of the land-transfer ceremony and fund-raising effort. Listen to Part 5 – 10:00
In the final segment Cheryl discussed the pollution of the site and the clean-up effort and plans for future World Renewal Ceremonies. Listen to Part 6 9:58