Instead of offering a formal apology, the Eureka City Council voted unanimously Tuesday, March 18 to accept a second draft of a letter from Mayor Frank Jager to the Wiyot Tribe, for the 1860 Wiyot Massacre on Indian Island.
The Eureka Times-Standard reports that the second version of the letter is a scaled back version of the first.
The first draft said: “As mayor of Eureka, on behalf of the city council and the people of Eureka, we would like to offer a formal apology to the Wiyot people for the actions of our people in 1860,” the draft says. “Nothing we can say or do can make up for what occurred on that night of infamy. It will forever be a scar on our history. We can, however, with our present and future actions of support for the Wiyot, work to remove the prejudice and bigotry that still exists in our society today.”
The second draft says: “As mayor of Eureka, on behalf of the city council and the people of Eureka, we offer our support to the Wiyot Tribe and reaffirm our commitment toward healing the Wiyot people’s wounds and continuing to work toward establishing better relationships rooted in reconciliation. The continuation of the Wiyot Renewal Ceremony is a step toward the healing of the wounds that have been a scar on our community.”
The second version of the letter does not say that residents of Eureka participated in the massacre, notes the Times-Standard.
“One is a little more negative and the other is a little more positive,” Jager told the paper. “One thing I discussed with staff is it wasn’t just people from the city of Eureka that precipitated massacres. Other people in cities in the county did too.”
According to the Times-Standard, Eureka Councilwoman Linda Atkins called the first letter “heartfelt,” and the second “bureaucratic.”
“My concern is that as people, we are unable to take any steps in this world without a concern about liability,” Atkins said. “And I realize that the city has a big concern about liability in everything we do. However, the fact of that matter is that if you actually do anything you can be sued. It doesn’t matter how you do it or what you say when you do it. If you actually do something, somebody could sue you.
“It hurts me that this very nice letter had to go through this morphing that it did,” Atkins told the Times-Standard. “It took it from being a personal letter in which we were expressing our concerns as people of Eureka and taking responsibility for what happened in 1860 into a letter that says we’re sorry that this happened to you without taking responsibility. To me that is a very different statement.”
While Tom Torma, the Wiyot Tribe’s lhatsik wadaqoumilh, or cultural director, told Indian Country Today Media Network that the tribe hasn’t reviewed the letter yet, he said: “We have a good working relationship with the city and we look forward to expanding and developing it.”
He said the city will present the tribe with the letter on Monday, March 24 and the World Renewal Ceremony will be held March 28, 29 and 30.