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Contribution to a Book

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The Routledge Handbook of Religion, Mass Atrocity, and Genocide


Sara E. Brown, Stephen D. Smith



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Destruction of the religious practices of Indigenous people strikes at the core of their identity and connection to the places they have existed in since time immemorial. Northwestern California saw the world renewal ceremonies of the Tolowas (at the Yontocket in 1853) and the Wiyots (at Tuluwat in 1860) horrifically interrupted by massacres as they prayed for a better world for all humanity. The cultural and spiritual identities of the tribes were nearly erased by settler-colonists intent on destroying people they perceived as less than human and an obstacle in their quest for land acquisition. This chapter approaches the targeting of the religious ceremonies of the Tolowa, Wiyot, Yurok, Karuk, and Hupa as an opportunity to examine the historical trauma that became embedded in the cultures of Indigenous populations. From the foundations that were built by these acts of genocide and mass violence, a legacy of religious oppression evolved throughout the early 1900s. It was reinforced by the Lyng v. Northwest Indian Cemetery Protective Association United States Supreme Court decision in 1988. The Court held that the building of a logging road through a significant ceremonial area to all Indigenous people of Northwestern California was not a violation of the First Amendment, even though the US Forest Service had determined that the religion of the tribes would be irreparably harmed. Within the chapter, the historical acts of violence, legal precedents, and religious resurgence are brought together to show the re-emergence of Indigenous people’s religious and cultural identities.


This is an Accepted Manuscript of a book chapter published by Routledge/CRC Press in The Routledge Handbook of Religion, Mass Atrocity, and Genocide on 18 November 2021, available online:

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