“On Arcata’s website, there is an asterisk when the Wiyot village is mentioned. Then you go all the way down to the bottom of the page, want to know what the asterisk says? It says ‘the population of the Wiyot was reduced by approximately 93% between 1853-1890. In 1910, the census said only 150 Wiyot were listed. The reasons for reduction are complex and include–new disease, alteration of lifestyle, diet, displacement, and hostilities.’ I ask the city of Arcata, where is the word genocide?” – Arcata Resident
Monday evening at the D Street Neighborhood Center, the City of Arcata held a “study session” to hear the thoughts of Arcata residents and HSU students on the removal of the McKinley statue.
Every so often the topic of removing the statue from Arcata’s plaza comes into conversation in the community. This is partially due to the fact that on the surface, Arcata in the 1900’s when the Mckinley statue was comissioned, is not the same Arcata of 2017.
Once you begin to discuss the removal of the Mckinley statue with people who hold positions of power in Arcata and some long-time residents however, you start to see that due to their lack of understanding, some people in Arcata’s community are holding on to symbols of the past simply for nostalgic purposes.
While for the Native American population of Humboldt County (what is left), these same symbols are a constant reminder of colonization–along with the murder and displacement they experienced–for “white settlers” to make a new way of life in Humboldt County.
About 20 people took turns standing in front of a podium and provided their reasoning on why the statue should be removed. Students, as well as many Arcata residents, spoke in solidarity with the removal of the statue for reasons that I myself did not fully understand in terms of the historical trauma that symbols like Mckinley represent to the indigenous people of Humboldt County.
“I think it is important for us to be a model for future generations that we respect cultures. We should not celebrate murderers, conquerors and people who have traveled the world to take over other cultures and to exploit other places,” a woman expressed.
“Take it down!” her six year old son said into the microphone after she asked him what he thought of the Mckinley statue.
An indigenous woman approached the podium and said that the Chair of the Wiyot Tribe Ted Henandez, asked her to speak these words:
“The Arcata plaza is a place of blood and tears. It has never been a safe space for native people, not even today. This is our truth and we know it. It was a auction site for local natives. The place where native peoples body parts, scalps and severed heads were traded for bounty. So what truth, what history, are we supporting? Where native children, whose parents had been killed by settlers, for the sole reason of stealing those children, were sold there as commodities. A place where a white man could buy a ten year old girl and call her his wife. Augustus Jacoby, the original owner of the Jacoby storehouse bought himeself one of those girls, her name was Mary and she was 12. Things have not been resolved. The spirtual energy of that location holds trauma-memory. This is the reason why there is so much upheaval in the activities of the plaza. It is the place where acts of genocide have taken place. Icons celebarating genocide and oppression have been placed there and it normalizes brutality and racism.”
One resident proposed putting the statue on a ballot in the true spirit of Democracy.
Many people did not agree with that because most of the Wiyot people do not live in Arcata. One person mentioned that a substantial portion of Arcata residents do not participate in local elections.
“Removing Mckinley doesn’ take away the history that happened. It allows the community to move forward in a way that no longer passively endorses racism. When some people see Mckinley, they might see a great president whom they fought for. While others might see the vien of their culture. How do you reconcile that? When I look at pictures of what Arcata’s plaza used to be, there was a gazebo. This statue is clearly an issue that is defisive in the community. However, in a gazebo, everyone can come together..it is this type of principle in which we should seek a solution. As a modern society we should not let ourselves be ruled by racist sentiments of the past.”
“I think it has to go and I think that the Gazebo idea is really nice.”
“It would be nice if the plaza was opened and not blocked by this huge thing in the middle.”
“I think it is important that we have healing, especially for the people that were hurt before we got here.”
The words on the Jacoby Storehouse (a national landmark) plaque were also brought into discussion that evening with many calling the language on the plaque offensive and racist.
“The words on the plaque talk about Indian troubles, of course there were Indian troubles, people were being bought and sold.”
Some Arcata residents spoke in favor of the statue, mostly for the sentimental value of their childhood, infused their interpretation and understanding of history.
“I think if you look at the total record of this president and some of what was obviously taking place during this period, you will hopefully at the end of the day, give this man the benefit of the doubt. I am proposing that he continue his watch over the rest of the city,” one man stated.
“I have been an Arcata resident since 1947. Mckinley statue is our history. It is a very nice statue and our history so leave the statue alone. It’s pretty good that the students can come here and get into our city business when they only pay taxes on what they buy. They don’t own a home or pay property taxes like we do.”
At one point, employees who work at the Humboldt County Historical Society weighed in and said they were not there to take a stance, but to provide educational material on the history of Arcata’s plaza.
The evening ran smoothly until public comments ended. People in the audience wanted to hear the thoughts of the city council.
The mayor of Arcata stood at the podium to address everyone but offered no concrete insight into her personal views on the matter other than she had ‘learned a lot that evening.’
Another city council member mentioned she would be in favor of rewording the plaque and moving the statue to another place on the Plaza.
Arcata’s mayor was also scolded by two indigenous folks in the audience for what they called ‘misrepresenting the words of Ted’ (chair of the Wiyot tribe).
In terms of the next step, Arcata’s mayor mentioned wanting to hold more study sessions and working to agendize the item for their council meeting, which should happen by Febuary.