TRINIDAD – The Yurok Tribe is deeply disappointed with a premature decision to move the Trinidad Memorial Lighthouse, prior to the completion of a formal consultation process between interested parties.
“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.”
“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 Yuroks 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.
Chue-rey, also spelled Tsurai, is one of the largest Yurok village sites. The adjacent natural harbor and formerly abundant natural resources enabled the Tribe to develop a thriving community on the bluffs overlooking the ocean. The protected bay was also used as a primary port during the Gold Rush, a horrific time in the Tribe’s history, when miners murdered untold numbers of Yuroks in Trinidad and along the Klamath River. Prior to the 1850s, the Yurok people had very little contact with non-Indians.
“For Yuroks, the Trinidad Memorial Lighthouse is a monument to this tragic era. We feel like it is no different than the statues created to honor Confederate soldiers in the South,” said Frankie Myers, the Yurok Tribal Heritage preservation officer. “What we’re asking is for the city and Civic Club to give the same respect to our ancestors as they give to the families of the 238 people who were buried at sea.”
The accumulative impact of the Civic Club’s projects in proximity to the monument destabilized the bluff and caused the Memorial Lighthouse to slide last winter. The Yurok Tribe believes that the City of Trinidad and Trinidad Civic Club claimed that the memorial was in imminent danger of falling in order to push the project forward, because both knew the Tribe and Tsurai Ancestral Society did not support the move.
“The California Coastal Conservancy did not support the approval of an emergency permit, nor the proposed placement of the Memorial Lighthouse. They contested it along with attorney Ralph Faust.” said Sarah Lindgren-Akana, the secretary for the Tsurai Ancestral Society.
The new location for the lighthouse, just 12 feet from where it formerly sat, still has the potential to fail, according to geological reports associated with the project.
“If the new location slips toward the sea, it will take out the cemetery, most of the village site and the Axel Lindgren Memorial Trail, a path our people have used since time immemorial,” said Clayburn, the Director of the Yurok Cultural Division. “Even though the city and the Civic Club did not select the original placement of the memorial, they are responsible for what happens now.”
The Yurok Tribe is the largest Tribe in California with more than 6,000 members. The Tribe’s ancestral territory comprises 7.5 percent of the California coastline, spanning from the Little River to the south and Damnation Creek to the north. The eastern boundary is the Klamath River’s confluence with the Trinity River. The Tribe is a leader in natural resource management, fisheries restoration and cultural protection.