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Historic Preservation: The Struggle of A Yurok Tribe

“The Civic Club built their replica lighthouse inside our village. Our cemetery is still located nearby. Please take a moment to think about this fact. The Civic Club built a memorial on top of a Yurok cemetery. They sold spaces on the retaining wall they built, so people could put their names up when they are buried at sea. They promote gatherings to pay homage to those whose names are located on the wall, while standing feet away from Indian graves.”

Trinidad, CA–The City Council of Trinidad and the Native American Yurok Village Tsurai, have been in constant battles spanning over a decade.

The lineal descendants of the Tsurai people formed a non-profit, The Tsurai Ancestral Society, to protect their culture from being erased and destroyed. As 2017 ends and 2018 quickly approaches, The Yurok tribe and The Tsurai Ancestral Society still find themselves fighting to preserve their culture and to escape the symbols and representations of colonization in Trinidad.

Galindo Street Trail

Galindo Street Trail was completed around 1990 under the direction of the City of Trinidad, who owns the site. This trail however, goes directly over a Yurok gravesite.

Axel Lindgren II, a member of the tribe, was in attendance at the start of the trail’s implementation. He voiced concern over the trail and advised the crew not to continue with the plotted route.

“After Axel left for an appointment, the crew continued building. When Axel returned, he noted the trail had not been adjusted to avoid the graves and his advice/request had been ignored.”

The grandaughter of Axel Lindgren II relayed to me her family’s struggle with the city of Trinidad over the years, especially the efforts of her grandfather.

“My grandfather was one of the first Native American’s to graduate from HSU. His father was a caretaker of the village before him and was born there around 1890. He spent the majority of his life trying to protect and preserve the village, and teach people in Trinidad about our culture so that they would find value in preserving it,” Sarah Lindgren-Akana wrote in an email.

Throughout the years, the Tsurai Ancestral Society and The Yurok Tribe have tried to persuade the City of Trinidad to reroute the trail.

“The Tsurai Ancestral Society, and Yurok Tribe fought the City and Trinidad Rancheria in 2007 to close the trail. The Seascape and pier access were more important and the business interests won out.”

That same year, the Yurok Tribe, the Tsurai Ancestral Society along with the California Coastal Conservancy and the City of Trinidad created the Tsurai Management Plan.

“The plan, which was published in 2007 after years of negotiations, calls for the eventual transfer of the 12.5 acres surrounding the ancient village of Tsurai to the Yurok Tribe.” (North Coast Journal)

Memorial Lighthouse Project

A few weeks ago, the Trinidad Civic Club received an emergency permit to save their memorial lighthouse. The replica lighthouse has the names of over 200 people buried at sea.

“The memorial lighthouse is a replica lighthouse that was installed by the Civic Club in 1949. It was placed on a piece of the nucleolus of the village of Tsurai. The descendants of Tsurai (last person was evicted and forcibly removed by the City of Trinidad in 1916) still lived in town. The village cemetery is still located nearby,” Ms. Lindgren wrote.

Ms. Lindgren also detailed how the City Council of Trinidad and The Civic Club may be displaying a conflict of interest.

“The City of Trinidad City Council has historically been made up of at least a few of the spouses that were members of the Civic Club.  Today, [two Trinidad City Councilmen] Jim Baker, and Jack West are also married to women in the Civic Club.  The Tsurai have asked if there were going to be any safeguards to ensure this was not a conflict of interest, and Jim Baker stated that while he does talk to his wife about the Civic Club projects, he can be objective.  We have questioned the ethics of this in front of the Coastal Commission and no one responds.”

For over 8 months, The Trinidad Civic Club has been preparing to move the lighthouse and started fundraising towards their $1000,000 goal for the project.

The area surrounding the replica lighthouse is sinking from a landslide, putting the lighthouse in danger.

On Dec 13, crews started the work to move the lighthouse 20 feet to “firmer ground.”

The problem with the lighthouse move, is that consideration of the Yurok people’s concerns were disregarded.

“After the memorial lighthouse began to slip in the winter of 2016, the Yurok Tribe contacted the City of Trinidad and the Trinidad Civic Club to initiate an official dialogue regarding the relocation of the monument to an area that was acceptable to all.

The lighthouse replica sits atop a traditional Yurok village site, containing a large cemetery, which is occupied, in part, by Yurok’s who were killed by white settlers during the Gold Rush. The Tribe hoped that the structure could be moved to a destination that no longer had the potential to disturb the relatives of many local Yurok families.” (The Yurok Tribe)

The Yurok Tribe released a statement after the Civic Club received their emergency permit.

“To move the memorial in the midst of the consultation process, under the guise of an ‘emergency,’ is disgraceful and disrespectful,” said Rosie Clayburn, the Director of the Yurok Tribe’s Cultural Division. “We have been working, in good faith, with the City of Trinidad and Trinidad Civic Club to relocate the memorial to a place where it would not disturb our ancestors and where it would not be in danger from falling.”

There is much pain behind history, while white folks continue to hold on to symbols of colonization–whether a lighthouse or a statue–for nostalgic or business purposes. The replica lighthouse is a top spot for tourism in the city of Trinidad.

 “I feel like we still have a lot of work to do with the Trinidad City Council. They have tried to find ways around us, and past us, because they still don’t take their obligation to protect the Study Area and village seriously. Which is kind of surprising since we have filed multiple lawsuits, appeals and spent years creating a management plan.

Not to mention my Grandfather Axel Lindgren Jr., helped create policies to protect our village and culture, and participated in many committees, and groups, (including the Trinidad Land Trust and Trinidad Museum) in order to make sure our village is protected and not just used as a prop for tourism.

We are resilient, we are permanent and we will always be a part of Trinidad. I am disappointed in the City, and especially in the Civic Club, but I am not deterred from my obligation to the village and my family that rest there. I know my family and fellow Tsurai Ancestral Society members have similar feelings and remain dedicated to our responsibility as caretakers of our ancestral home.”

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Edit:** The memorial list the names of those buried at sea, not lost at sea.

About slausongirl

Slauson Girl is a South Central native who has a love for journalism, history and all things Hip-Hop. She holds a B.A in Critical Race & Gender Theory & a Minor in Journalism.

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