The members of the Blue Lake Rancheria include people with Wiyot, Yurok, Tolowa, and Cherokee ancestry. This tribe is made up of the remnant survivors of the people who once lived along the Eel and Mad Rivers in northern California. Priror to Euro-American settlement, the ancestors of the Blue Lake Rancheria Tribe were primarily Wiyot.
Official Tribal Name: Blue Lake Rancheria
Address: 428 Chartin Road, Blue Lake, CA 95525 or P.O. Box 428,Blue Lake, CA 95525
Phone: (707) 668-5101
Fax: (707) 668-4272
Email: [email protected]
Official Website: http://www.bluelakerancheria-nsn.gov
Recognition Status: Federally Recognized
State(s) Today: California
Alternate names / Alternate spellings / Mispellings: Viard , Wyot, Wyott, and Wishosk are the same as Wiyot; Alikwa, Aliquois, Cuthacs, Eurocs, Eurok, Eurooks, Eurucks, Klamath River Indians, Poh-lik, Tlamath, Weits-pek, Weitspekan, Youruk and Yurock are the same as Yurok; Etchulets, Smith River Athapaskan, Tahlewahs, Talawas, Tolewahs, Tolana, Tollowa, Tollowah and Yantuckets are the same as Tolowa; Athabaskan, Athapascan and Dene are the same as Athabascan. Also referred to as Rancheria Indians.
Reservation: Blue Lake Rancheria and Off-Reservation Trust Land
Land Area: 91 acres
Tribal Headquarters: Blue Lake, California
Time Zone: Pacific
The Blue Lake Rancheria consists of approximately 91 acres near City of Blue Lake, California, 17 miles north of Eureka and 5 miles east of Arcata, in Humboldt County. The land is largely rural terrain between the Northern California coastal mountains and the Pacific Ocean, bordered by great forests and the majestic California Redwood trees. The property gained federal trust status on December 15, 1983.
During the period (1959-83) when it was terminated, the BIA deeded 2 parcels of its land to the non-Indian town of Blue Lake which is not yet recovered.
Yurok is a Karuk word meaning “downstream” and refers to the tribe’s location relative to the Karuk people. The Yuroks referred to themselves as Olekwo’l, meaning “Persons.” On December 24th, 1908, the Blue Lake Rancheria was established by Executive Order as a refuge for homeless Native Americans, and over time, they commonly became known as the Blue Lake Rancheria Indians..
Name in other languages:
The traditional homeland of the Blue Lake Rancheria people ranged from Mad River through Humboldt Bay (including the present cities of Eureka and Arcata) to the lower Eel river basin. Inland, their territory was heavily forested in ancient redwood. Their stretch of shoreland was mostly sandy, dunes and tidal marsh, not rocky cliffs, such as begin a bit further south.
The Blue Lake Rancheria is located within the traditional territory of the Wiyot people. The Wiyot, like the Yurok, traditionally lived along the Eel and Mad Rivers in northern California, ranging into neighboring forests and prairies. During the 1850s, the Wiyot were not only forced out of their traditional territory, but were killed in large numbers by Euro-American settlers.
Confederacy: Chippewa’s of the Iron Confederation
Population at Contact: 1,000 to 4,000
Today, there are approximately 450 Wiyot people in all. Many are enrolled in several other federally recognized tribes, such as the Wiyot Tribe (formerly known as the Table Bluff Reservation—Wiyot Tribe), Bear River Band of the Rohnerville Rancheria, and the Cher-Ae Heights Indian Community of the Trinidad Rancheria.
There are about 5,000 Yurok people, making them the largest tribe in California. Most Yuroks are enrolled in the Yurok Tribe of the Yurok Reservation.
An additional 77 Tolowa live on the Elk Valley Rancheria.
Tribal Enrollment Requirements:
Lineal Descendancy Blood Quantum, Min. 1/16 Approved by Council.
Charter: The Blue Lake Tribe is organized under an IRA Constitution Approved by the secretary of the interior March 22, 1989.
Name of Governing Body: General Council – All resident members of the Rancheria, age 18 or older, comprise the General Council, which serves as the governing body of the Tribe. All members of the General Council are eligible to vote. The majority vote carries each decision, and votes count on a one-to-one basis. The General Council elects the Blue Lake Rancheria Business Council, which sees to day to day operation of the tribe.
Number of Tribal Council members: Chairman, Vice-Chairman, Secretary-Treasurer, and 2 members at large
Dates of Constitutional amendments:
Number of Executive Officers: 3
- The General Council elects the Tribal Council, through general elections which occur every two years.
- The five members of the Business Council are elected by the General Council for two-year terms. Their actions are subject to review by the General Council.
- The five-member Charter Development Corporation (CDC) manages the Tribe’s economic activities and also acts as the Overall Economic Development Plan (OEDP) Committee.
Algonquian -> Athabascan -> Cherokee
The Wiyot and Yurok are the farthest-southwest people whose language has Algonquian roots.
Wiyot was an Algonquian language related to Yurok.
Number of fluent Speakers: The last fluent speaker of the Wiyot language died in 1962.
In 1996 a Yurok Tribe survey was completed and the results showed that there were only 20 fluent speakers and 12 semi-fluent speakers of the Yurok language. After a decade of language restoration activities, the Tribe most recently documented that there are now only 11 fluent Yurok speakers, but now have 37 advanced speakers, 60 intermediate speakers and approximately 311 basic speakers.
Oral tradition says the Wiyot people have been living around Humboldt Bay for about 10,000 years, with documented evidence going back at least 8,000 years.
Bands, Gens, and Clans
- Big Lagoon Rancheria (Yurok and Tolowa )
- Blue Lake Rancheria (Wiyot, Yurok, Tolowa, and Cherokee)
- Cher-Ae Heights Indian Community of the Trinidad Rancheria (Chetco, Hupa, Karuk, Tolowa, Wiyot, and Yurok)
- Confederated Tribes of the Lower Rogue (Chetco and Tututni) (U)
- Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians of Oregon (5,000 members from 29 tribes, including about 3,500 Chetco and Tututni)
- Elk Valley Rancheria (Tolowa)
- Hoopa Valley Tribe (Hupa and Yurok)
- Klamath Tribes (Klamath, Modoc, and Yahooskin)
- Quartz Valley Indian Community of the Quartz Valley Reservation of California (Klamath, Karuk, Shasta, and Yurok)
- Resighini Rancheria (Yurok)
- Tolowa Dee-ni’ Nation (Tolowa, Chetco, Yurok)
- Yurok Tribe of the Yurok Reservation
- Wiyot Tribe
The Wiyots and Yuroks were neighbors and closely allied. Neither the Yurok nor the Wiyot are related to other Tribes of Northern California.
Murder, insult, or poaching was the typical cause of war. The Wiyots fought by surprise attack or prearranged battle and used elk hide armor, rawhide shields, and bows and arrows. Women and children were not killed in war. After the fighting, both sides paid compensation for damaged property.
Ceremonies / Dances:
The Wiyots practiced World Renewal ceremonies and dances. Although other peoples celebrated the World Renewal religion in a showy and complex manner, which involved recitations, displays of wealth, costumed dances, and various decorations, the Wiyots observed it irregularly and with less flair.
Indian Island, formerly called Duluwat Island, was and is the center of the Wiyot world. On the island a ceremonial dance was held to start the new year. The ceremony was called the World Renewal ceremony. All people were welcomed, no one was turned away. The ceremony lasted seven to ten days. It was held at the village site of Tutulwat on the northern part of the island. Traditionally the men would leave the island and return the next day with the day’s supplies. The elders, women and children were left to rest on the island along with a few men.
Men and women also performed victory dances when an enemy was killed and conducted an elaborate girls’ puberty ceremony. They did not observe a first salmon ritual (the ritualistic preparation and consumption of the season’s first catch). Female berdaches played an important role in Wiyot ceremonialism.
Art & Crafts:
The Yurok people are known as good basket weavers and canoe makers. So are the Wiyot.
Wiyot women generally wore twined basket hats and either fringed and embroidered buckskin double aprons that hung to between the knee and the ankle or one-piece, inner-bark skirts or aprons. Men wore buckskin breechclouts. Robes were of deer hide and woven rabbit skin. Both sexes wore moccasins.
Each Wiyot group was autonomous and self-governing before the extermination. Wealth was valued as the source of social stratification and prestige, although not to the degree of the Klamath River peoples. There was no debt slavery.
The traditional money used by Yurok people is dentalia shell (terk-term), which is a shell harvested from the ocean. Dentalia is used on necklaces most often used in traditional ceremonies, such as the White Deerskin Dance (u pyue-wes) , Jump Dance (woo-neek-we-ley-goo) and the Brush Dance (mey-lee). IIn the old days, it was standard to use dentalia shells to settle debts, pay dowry, and purchase large or small items needed by individuals or families. Tattoos on the men’s arms measured the length of the dentalia.
Two or more families, including men, slept in rectangular houses of split redwood planks. Each unnamed house had a two- or three-pitch roof and a smoke hole at the top. The sweat house, built like a dwelling, only smaller, was used for gambling, ceremony, and occasionally sleeping. The Wiyot built no separate birth or menstrual huts.
The Yuroks also built family homes and sweathouses made from fallen keehl (redwood trees) which were then cut into redwood boards. Before contact, it was common for every village to have several family homes and sweathouses. Today, only a small number of villages with traditional family homes and sweathouses remain intact.
They ate mostly fish, clams and other shellfish, and acorns. They made long carved log canoes for fishing in the ocean and rivers. Both women and men hunted.
Food was obtained from the rivers, forests, ocean and tidal flats. When consuming food or materials, Native Americans automatically practiced sustainable harvesting- taking no more than was needed. This is one of the reasons Northern California Native populations were relatively small and stable. They gathered food and other resources for themselves in direct relation to what the environment could provide.
There were fish, elk, deer, bear, acorns, berries, duck and many different types of shellfish in abundance. Berries (huckleberries and strawberries), nuts, seeds and other plant-based foods were gathered seasonally.
Methods of hunting included rope snares, traps utilizing dead falls (trees that have fallen down and rotted out), and redwood canoes and harpoons on the ocean.
Fishing was the primary source of meat, due to the abundant fish populations in the area rivers. Fishing implements were mostly made from bone. Gill nets were stretched across channels to catch salmon.
Gardening was primarily practiced to produce tobacco. Tobacco was smoked in a tubular stone or wooden pipe. The grass on the prairie patches to the east of the redwood belt was burned annually for the purpose of providing a supply of seeds for food and to control the growth of both timber and chaparral.
The Blue Lake Rancheria has one casino named the Blue Lake Rancheria Casino.
Traditional Religion & Spiritual Beliefs:
The Wiyots’ creator was known as “that old man above.”
Healers and ceremonial leaders were mostly women, who got their powers on mountain tops at night.
Disease was considered to be caused either by the intrusion of poisonous objects, soul loss, or breaches of taboo. Herb doctors and especially sucking doctors (shamans) cured disease. Unlike most northwest California peoples, the Wiyots did not penalize shamans for declining a curing case.
Corpses were carried by stretcher to the cemetery and buried in an extended position in plank-lined graves along with money and valuables. Relatives and undertakers observed various taboos following the funeral.
Married couples generally lived with the father’s family, except in the case of “half-marriages” (when a man worked to cover part of the bride price).
Most of the common menstrual taboos were absent among the Wiyots.
Education and Media: The tribe has educational scholarships for members.
Historical Leaders: Captain Jim
Wiyot People of Note:
Tolowa People of Note:
The first two settler massacres of the Wiyot took place in 1852 and 1858.
Indian Island Massacre
1860 marked the beginning of perhaps the darkest times of physical hardship for Humboldt Bay area Tribes, especially the Wiyot. One of the worst massacres in California history occurred on February 25th, 1860. Local landowners and businessmen from Eureka embarked on a systematic slaughter of area Indians.
Beginning on Indian Island, just offshore from Eureka in Humboldt Bay, where the World Renewal Ceremony was in progress, a group of men silently attacked in the pre-dawn hours. No distinction was made as to who were killed. Over 200 mainly women, children and elders of area Wiyot and other Tribes were on the island to observe annual “World Renewal” ceremonies. They had been there for a week, and most of the men had gone hunting to replenish food supplies. Those remaining on the island were surprised as they slept, and killed with quiet weapons – axes, clubs and knives – in order to avoid detection by others on the mainland. Two small groups of Yurok, two Wiyot women, and twelve children survived.
Indian Island was one of several simultaneous attacks at different locations: villages at Slide (modern-day Fortuna) on the Eel River, Rio Dell, Ferndale, Centerville, Indianola, Table Bluff and Salmon Creek also fell that day.
Surviving members were rounded up and interned for varying lengths of time in a variety of settings. Tribal Members were moved from site to site, and after several years in most cases, permanently placed at area reservations including Smith River, Hupa, Table Bluff and eventually Blue Lake.
After the massacres, soldiers rounded up the survivors and took them to Fort Humboldt. They were kept outside (in February) locked in an uncovered cattle pen, which was 80 feet in diameter. Here they were kept for several days. Then, with space becoming limited, the Army decided to move survivors to the North Jetty.
The Army combed the countryside for all the remaining Indians they could find. As villages were located, the Natives were moved to the North Jetty, and to discourage any attempts to escape, their homes and village sites were destroyed so there would be nothing to return to.
In September of 1862, it was decided to move the North Jetty residents to the already established Smith River Rancheria. Eight hundred and fourty men, women and children were placed in the cargo hold of the steamliner Panama where they were held for three days without food, water, blankets or toilet facilities. The ship’s manifest listed simply, “Cargo: Indians.”
The supplies promised to the Indians when they arrived at Smith River never materialized. Despite the enormous increase in population, the reservation’s food allotment was not increased, nor were supplies for additional shelter provided. A year and a half went by.
Understandably, fighting broke out between groups over the meager rations. The U.S. Department of the Interior determined that the 636 survivors of the Panama (204 original survivors from the North Jetty had died in the intervening months) should be moved again, this time to the Hupa Reservation. These people were force-marched through the mountains in the dead of winter. Only 427 people arrived at Hupa, 209 having perished during the journey.
Wiyot culture never recovered from this event; their identity became mixed with whites and other local Indian peoples.
In 1806, the first non-Native explorers came into the region, which were Russian fur trappers.. They were among the last tribes to be introduced to Europeans. The natives of the Humbolt area had been comparatively little affected by the Spanish, whose string of mission-prison camps extended only as far north as San Francisco Bay. The Russian fur traders, whose 18th-century invasion in search of the sea otter devastated the Pomo, were unintersted in their sandy shorelands, which are not sea-otter habitat.
Humboldt Bay was finally discovered by outsiders by the seafaring exploration of Douglass Ottinger in 1850. White settlement followed immediately. A military post called Fort Humboldt was founded February 9, 1853. Destruction came to them mainly with the invasion of Americans following their victory in the Mexican war. Miners, farmers, and ranchers poured into California, and many settled at what is now Eureka.
The first systematic murders of Wiyots began around 1852 during the Chetco/Rogue River Indian War. The regular killings of individual Indians led to wholesale massacres shortly thereafter.
On February 25, 1860, the Wiyot experienced the tragic massacre described above. It has remained a pervasive part of their cultural heritage and identity. World Renewal ceremonies were being held at the village of Tutulwat, on “Indian Island” about a mile and a half offshore from Eureka in Humboldt Bay. The leader of the Humboldt Bay Wiyots was Captain Jim. He organized and led the ceremony to start a new year.
Eureka newspapers of the time exulted at the night massacres conducted by the “good citizens of the area. “Good haul of Diggers” and “Tribe Exterminated!” were 2 headlines from the Humboldt Times. Those who thought diffrently about it were shut up by force. Newspaper publisher and short story writer Bret Harte called it “cowardly butchery of sleeping women and children” — then had to flee ahead of a lynch mob that smashed his printing presses.
The Wiyot people were decimated. They were corralled at Fort Humboldt. This was another California case of the Army protecting Indians from their own violent and barbaric citizens. Survivors were herded mostly to Round Valley, establishd as an Indian concentration camp (“reservation”) within California.They kept escaping and returning to their homeland.
By 1850, there were about 2000 Wiyot and Karok people living within this area. After 1860 there was an estimated 200 people left. By 1910 there were less than 100 full blood Wiyot people living within Wiyot territory. This rapid decline in population was due to disease, slavery, target practice, “protection,” being herded from place to place on what survivors’ descendants describe as death marches, and massacres.
In the News:
- Ethnogeography and Archaeology of the Wiyot Territory by Llewellyn L. Loud, University of California Press, 1918
- Handbook of the Indians of California, with 419 Illustrations and 40 Maps by A.L. Kroeber, Dover Publications, Inc., 1976 (original manuscript published in 1925)
- Yurok Myths by A.L. Kroeber