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Wiyot History


May 19

Imagine the World of the Wiyot People - Heritage Preservation Month

Posted on May 19, 2021 at 2:47 PM by Lynnika Butler

May 2021 is Heritage Preservation Month. In collaboration with the City of Arcata, Blue Lake Rancheria's Tribal Historic Preservation Officer and Wiyot Tribe's Linguist and Cultural Center Manager we present a written and recorded narrative for the present-day Health Sport location.

Please read on and listen along with the narration.



Close your eyes and imagine the world of the Wiyot people …

Tens of thousands of geese blackened the sky during seasonal migrations, their rhythmic honking punctuating the long V-shaped formations that swirled onto the marshes. So many foods to sustain the people: salmon, surf fish, clams, mud hens, elk and deer, acorns, Indian potatoes, huckleberries, hazel nuts and more, enough to host many tribes at the annual World Renewal Dances and to preserve and set aside for the lean winter months. Wiyot people lived in balance with this bounty, never taking more than needed and tending to the needs of the plants and animals. They wintered over in villages of split redwood plank houses built along the shores of Wigi (Humboldt Bay), Plhut Gasamuli'm (Little River), Baduwa't (Mad River), Hikshari' (Elk River), Girrughurralilh (Van Duzen River) and Wiya't (Eel River), where elders told creation stories to children around the hearth fires, and men did men’s things and slept in the sweathouse. Springtime would find the women out gathering bulbs and the men fishing runs of salmon, steelhead and candlefish in coastal rivers. In the summer, families would move into the hills, moving upslope with the seasonal ripening of plant foods. In the fall, acorns would be harvested, elk and deer hunted, and running fish caught; it was a busy time, preparing to move back to the winter villages with plenty of stores.

Shimmering waters of Wigi and shou'r (ocean) beyond, and the slough tendrils reaching into the salt marshes, afforded travel by redwood dugout canoes to the nearby village located on the ancient marine terrace where you now stand. Artifacts recovered from archaeological excavations in the late 1980s before Healthsport was built attest to a 2500-year-old record of people visiting this place by Wigi (the bay). It was well sited with a warm southern exposure and next to freshwater in Campbell Creek that feeds into Gannon Slough and empties into Rrak Vou'r Halu Wigi (Arcata Bay) opposite Shirouk Dumi (Jacoby Creek). This once prominent deep and wide slough was called Embarcadero Slough in the mid-19th century by the EuroAmericans, who off-loaded supplies from large sailing ships on a wharf now long gone, where the Highway now runs. Soon after the colonists arrived on Wigi, the slough and bay became choked with sediment from logging the surrounding redwood forests.

Native grasslands ringed Wigi and a large prairie with a view of Tuluwat, a major village on one of the islands in the middle of Wigi, could be seen from Goudi'ni (Arcata). Goudi'ni was a place where stalks of sweet anise, a type of clover that was tended and harvested, peeled and eaten raw, coloring the lips black. Small, controlled burns were a familiar tool used by the Wiyot people to promote the health of the grasslands, prevent encroachment of fir from prairie margins, kill off insect pests, enhance forage for elk and deer, and reduce fuels to avoid catastrophic forest fires started by lightning strikes, among other benefits of tribal ecological knowledge (TEK). Basket weavers knew it would soon be time to gather hazel and other sticks and to “follow the smoke” to find the best materials.


Key vocabulary from the text, in order of appearance:

 Soulatluk word English equivalent
 valhuk / malhuk
 salmon
 hout 

 surf fish
 houlhi'

 clams
 ju'chichgurri

 mudhens
 ve'luqh / me'luqh

 elk
 halhuqh

 deer
 ga'muk

 acorns
 bouduroush

 Indian potatoes
 vou'gul / mou'gul

 huckleberries
 dougapa'lu'

 hazelnuts
 voupul / moupul

 redwood
 Wigi

 Humboldt Bay
 Plhut Gasamuli'm

 Little River
 Baduwa't

 Mad River
 Hikshari'

 Elk River
 Girrughurralilh

 Van Duzen River
 Wiya't

 Eel River
 laqilh

 elders
 tsek

 children
 gouwi'

 men
 kuwa'

 sweathouse
 guvouch

 women
 budughutgurra'wilu'

 steelhead
 rru'mula'wi  candlefish
 lalilh

 river
 qus

 hill/mountain
 shou'r

 ocean/beach/coast
 halou'wi'

 canoe/boat
 Rrak Vou'r Halu Wigi  Arcata Bay
 Shirouk Dumi  Jacoby Creek
 diqa'

 white man = Euro-Americans
 wa'mul

 prairie
 Tuluwat

 "Indian Island" and/or a major village site on the island
 Goudi'ni

 Arcata
 lughulhiswulh

 hazel
 vi'wurr / mi'wurr

 smoke

Written in collaboration with:
Janet Eidsness, Blue Lake Rancheria THPO
Marnie Atkins, Wiyot Tribe Cultural Center Manager
Lynnika Butler, Wiyot Tribe Linguist