people have inhabited California's northern shores for thousands of
years. This area has long been renowned for its majestic redwood
forests and thick salmon runs. Before the coming of white settlers,
Wiyot people around Humboldt Bay and on Indian Island hunted the area's
wildlife, fished for salmon and gathered roots for medicine, food and
Wiyot Leader, Ki-we-lat-tah, circa 1882 by S.W. Shaw
territory starts at Little River and continues down the coast to Bear
River, then inland to the first set of mountains. Towns that are within
the traditional Wiyot territory are McKinleyville, Blue Lake, Arcata,
Eureka, Kneeland, Loleta, Fortuna, Ferndale, and Rohnerville. Rivers
within this territory are Mad River (Batwat), Elk River, Eel River and
the Van Duzen River.
Pre 1850, there were approximately 1500 to
2000 Wiyot people living within this area. After 1860 there were an
estimated population of 200 people left. By 1910 there was an estimate
of less than 100 full blood Wiyot people living within Wiyot territory.
This rapid decline in population was due to disease, slavery, target
practice, "protection," and being herded from place to place, and of
Wiyot Woman and Child, circa 1800s, Smithsonian Collection.
Island is the center of the Wiyot People's world. It is home to the
ancient village of Tuluwat, and a traditional site of the World Renewal
Ceremony. Once a year, the Wiyot people would get together for the
World Renewal Ceremony. During this ceremony, all people were welcomed,
no one was turned away. The leader of the Humboldt Bay Wiyot People was
a man named Captain Jim. He was the man who would organize and lead the
ceremony to start the new year. The ceremony would continue for at
least seven to ten days. It was held at the village site of Tuluwat on
the northern part of the island. Traditionally, the men would leave the
island and return the next day with the days supplies. The elders,
women and children were left to rest on the island along with a few men.