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.
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.
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.
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.