The Wiyot are an indigenous people of California living near Humboldt Bay, California and a small
surrounding area. Today, there are approximately 450 Wiyot people. They are an enrolled federally
recognized tribe, known as the Table Bluff Reservation—Wiyot Tribe. The Wiyots were among the last natives in California to encounter white settlers. Spanish missions extended only as far north as San Francisco Bay. Following a brief visit in 1806, Russian fur traders, whose 18th-century invasion in search of the sea otter had devastated the Pomo, were uninterested in the area, which was not a sea-otter habitat. The way of life of the Wiyot people, after many centuries of isolated development, was forever changed, if not completely destroyed, as a result of settlement by Europeans.

On February 26, 1860, the Wiyot experienced a massacre which devastated their numbers and has
remained a pervasive part of their cultural heritage and identity. A group of white men came to the island in the early morning after the last ceremony was completed and most of the Indian men had left the island, leaving only women and children. The whites were armed with hatchets, clubs and knives [and had left their guns behind so the noise of the slaughter would be only screams rather than gunshots]. This was not the only massacre that took place that night. Two other village sites were raided, on the Eel River and on the South Spit. Reports of the number of Wiyots killed that night vary from 80 to 200; they were mostly women and children, who were apart from the men conducting ceremonies.

By 1850, there were about 2000 Wiyot people living within this area. After 1860, there were an estimated 200 people left. By 1910, there were fewer than 100 full-blood Wiyot people living within their ancestral territory. This rapid decline in population occurred due to disease, slavery, target practice, protection, being herded from place to place (survivors’ descendants describe this as “death marches”), and massacres. Memorials have been held annually at Tuluwat village, on what is now known as Indian Island. Since 1992, a major cultural and environmental restoration project is underway there. More recently, the long-awaited World Renewal Ceremony has returned to the island, and is in the process of being revived by current tribal members. This event is private and central to Wiyot cultural beliefs.