For some people living in the small coastal Humboldt County community of Trinidad, the Trinidad Memorial Lighthouse — which is actually a replica of the original structure — represents sailors, fishermen and travelers lost at sea.

But for the Yurok Tribe, whose nearby ancestral village is called Tsurai, the lighthouse represents oppression by white settlers.

“An attack on one village is an attack on all villages.” That’s written on a banner protesters tied to the Trinidad Memorial Lighthouse in Humboldt County last week. That along with #AllGravesMatter.

All of this started to unfold because the cliff where the lighthouse is currently located is eroding, and the Trinidad City Council had begun to move the structure to a temporary location, somewhere around 12-20 feet away. That, however, is directly above the Tsurai Ancestral Village and puts it in jeopardy.

Families and descendants of the Tsurai Ancestral Village, part of the Yurok Tribe, staged protests and sit ins at the Trinidad Memorial Lighthouse for more than a week. They say they'll stay at the site until the Trinidad City Council and the Civic Club ensures that their village is safe.
Families and descendants of the Tsurai Ancestral Village, part of the Yurok Tribe, staged protests and sit ins at the Trinidad Memorial Lighthouse for more than a week. They say they'll stay at the site until the Trinidad City Council and the Civic Club ensures that their village is safe. (Natalya Estrada/kqed)

Axel Lindgren III, is a Yurok elder with the Tsurai Ancestral Society. He and his family, are descendants of people buried at the village and he takes issue with the City Council rushing to relocate the lighthouse.

“We’ve been fighting with them for years, just over the last few years about the lighthouse… and how its causing the destabilization of the hillside,” Lindgren said. “When they say it’s an emergency move, it’s not an emergency move, that’s a lie to get around CEQA.”

CEQA is the California Environmental Quality Act and it requires consultation with tribes in such cases.

Protesters, including Lucas Garcia, a descendant of the Tsurai Ancestral Village and member of the Yurok Tribe, climbed to the top of the Trinidad Memorial Lighthouse on December 28, 2017 to stop its relocation. They say it puts the village in jeopardy. Meanwhile construction continued to take place at the base of the structure.
Protesters, including Lucas Garcia, a descendant of the Tsurai Ancestral Village and member of the Yurok Tribe, climbed to the top of the Trinidad Memorial Lighthouse on December 28, 2017 to stop its relocation. They say it puts the village in jeopardy. Meanwhile construction continued to take place at the base of the structure. (Natalya Estrada/KQED)

Trinidad City Manager Dan Berman says this is an emergency and that there were numerous meetings about the relocation of the lighthouse with the Trinidad Civic Club, who owns the structure, the city council and tribal cultural monitors.

“Cracks were opening and pavement was getting broken and cracked and that comes right up under a corner,” says Berman. “I didn’t anticipate this level of response because I didn’t see this move of the lighthouse over as being the insult, I guess, to the cultural resources there to the people. Clearly people are taking it as one.”

In a written statement posted in the North Coast Journal, the Yurok Tribe says it’s deeply disappointed and that the parties had not finished the formal consultation process before the decision to move the lighthouse.

Patti Fleschner, with the Trinidad Civic Club, says the protests are uncalled for.

“No one’s trying to desecrate or disrespect anything. We’re trying to preserve the site below so that the lighthouse doesn’t fall down the hill.”

Meanwhile, a small band of protesters — many of them tribal members — continue to sit around the lighthouse everyday;  protesters like Lucas Garcia, a Yurok descendant of the Tsurai village.

“This is my home. This is who we are. This is part of our identity. And for the city of Trinidad and the Civic Club to encroach on our, our village is like taking apart of who we are,” Garcia says.

Negotiations continue, and construction to move the lighthouse has stopped for now, while all parties work towards a solution.

Lighthouse Relocation Near Ancestral Village Sparks Protests 8 January,2018Polly Stryker

  • Quest

    It would be nice if you reported on the Trinidad Rancheria Tribes statement and view point. They have ancestors buried there as well and are not in agreement with the activist protesting. Good journalism should reflect the whole story.

  • Marcus G-R

    This article shows the effort that people take to avoid socializing with native tribes. People should not be able to simply say that a project is an “emergency “ in order to avoid the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). It should be mandatory in these situations to talk to the native tribes, as for the Yurok tribe this cultural landscape is seen as a sacred site, an area where their ancestors have been laid to rest. The Yurok tribe is using these protests as a form of preservation and Environmental mitigation as they should be, if its clear that this light house is destabilizing the hillside they shouldn’t be able to relocate over an ancestral village, a place that has so much cultural value.

  • K Jensen

    I can understand the Trinidad City Council’s concern about erosion and the threat to both the landscape and waterscape below the lighthouse; however, there simply has to be a better solution than relocating the structure directly above the Tsurai Ancestral Village. While the lighthouse pays homage to sailors, fishermen, and travelers lost at sea, it could do so from any location in the area. Placing the structure directly over what appears to be a significant cultural landscape seems unnecessary. While I am uncertain about the exact significance of this particular location, most tribes consider areas where ancestors are buried to be sacred sites.

    Relations between tribes and government authorities have always been strained. I hope that both parties can find a suitable solution to the problem. It would be a shame to place a replica directly atop something that is the genuine article.

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