The California city of Eureka drafted a formal apology to the Native American Wiyot tribe for the 1860 massacre on Indian Island, during which 200 sleeping Wiyot, including women and children, were slaughtered.
The Eureka City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to scrap that letter and replace it with one without an apology. The new letter was written by Eureka Mayor Frank Jager, whose two granddaughters are members of the tribe
"It's a different kind of apology letter, but it certainly is an apology,” said Jager. “It calls for reconciliation.”
The new letter doesn’t specify who did the killing and offers support instead of an explicit apology:
Dear Members of the Wiyot Tribe:
On a winter night 154 years ago, the Wiyot people of Humboldt Bay were attacked.
Councilmembers say the first letter opened up Eureka citizens to liability issues, but councilwoman Linda Atkins said the first letter is “heartfelt.” Atkins said the second one is simply “bureaucratic.”
“And I realize that the city has a big concern about liability in everything we do," Atkins said. "However, the fact of that matter is that if you actually do anything you can be sued. It doesn't matter how you do it or what you say when you do it. If you actually do something, somebody could sue you.”
The original apology letter stated: “Nothing we say or do can make up for what occurred on that night of infamy. It will forever be a scar on our history. We can, however, with our present and future actions of support for the Wiyot, work to remove the prejudice and bigotry that still exists in our society today.”
That paragraph is stricken from the latest version.
The new letter says, "we offer our support to the Wiyot Tribe and re-affirm our commitment toward healing the Wiyot people’s wounds and continuing to work toward establishing better relationships rooted in reconciliation."
“It hurts me that this very nice letter had to go through this morphing that it did,” Atkins said. “It took it from being a personal letter in which we were expressing our concerns as people of Eureka and taking responsibility for what happened in 1860 into a letter that says we're sorry that this happened to you without taking responsibility. To me that is a very different statement.”