Indian Island sits out in Humboldt Bay between Woodley Island and the Samoa Peninsula.
As you cross the Samoa Bridge heading west, shortly after the Woodley exit you will notice one of its prominent features, the tall standing trees on the south side of the bridge. These trees provide the nesting grounds for heron and egrets. Protected for the past 30 years by the Redwood Region Audubon Society, it is a part of the Humboldt Bay Wildlife Sanctuary and is considered the largest known multi-species heron rookery in northwestern California. Although it is not open to the public, it can be easily viewed from Woodley Island or the Eureka Boardwalk.
The Wiyot Tribe considers the rookery to be tied to their people. The Wiyot people inhabited the Humboldt Bay region in a number of villages including Tuluwat on present-day Indian Island. This site has always been sacred to the Wiyot people, given to them by the Creator as the center of our world. It is the resting place of centuries of Wiyot ancestors and where other Native Americans of the area were invited for the World Renewal Dance.
The brutal 1860 massacre of Indian Island’s inhabitants and visitors abruptly ended Wiyot occupation and centuries of ceremonial dancing and celebration. Most of the men among the Wiyot celebrants had traveled to the mainland during the night in order to replenish supplies when, during the early morning hours, a group of settlers paddled their boats over to the island and massacred as many as 100 women, children and elders. Only one newborn child survived.
Robert Gunther acquired the island in 1860, the same year of the massacre. Gunther diked the island and ran dairy cattle there for nearly 40 years. In the 1870s a shipyard repair facility was constructed. The shipyard operated until the 1980s.
Indian Island, with its ancient shell mounds and rich history, remains an important symbol for many Northern California Native Americans. The Wiyot Tribe returned to the Island in 2000 with the purchase of a 1.5-acre parcel. In May of 2004, The Eureka City Council made history when they unanimously approved a resolution to return 40 acres, comprising the northeastern tip of Indian Island to the Wiyot Tribe.
After 140 years, the tribe has begun clean up and restoration of the land, and is seeking to reestablish its cultural connection to the island by once again hosting the World Renewal Ceremony on original locations with plans to build a place where traditional ceremonies can be restored to the island.
Today the 500 enrolled Wiyot tribal members hold an annual Candlelight Vigil in February of remembrance and healing, at which the entire community is welcome.