The Winnemem Wintu’s Struggle for Religious Liberty


Dver at A Forest Door and Jason at The Wild Hunt have written about the infringement of religious liberty of this California tribe, but as it is close to the heart of my concerns at finnchuillsmast I wish to expand on it here.


The Winnemem are attempting to hold a very important initiation rite for young women of  the tribe on Memorial Day weekend and the Forest Service which controls the stretch of the McCloud River and Lake Shasta which is the custom place for this ceremony, have refused to issue them a permit (a people who have an 8,000 year presence in the area!). The tribe is one of the many which is not recognized by the Federal Government, and thus reside in a legal limbo. As a last resort they are holding a protest. Last year they report that recreational boaters were present and mocked the girls.


This is abhorrent on so many levels, and touches close to me as a California pagan. I have worked with plants and had a deep spiritual experience on the wild reaches of the McCloud, which flows down from the sacred Mt Shasta, the colossal glacier-tipped mountain that dominates the landscape for vast distances. Part of the McCloud is a preserve owned by the Nature Conservancy. But the tribe’s ritual is traditionally held in the section close to the artificial.



The Shasta Dam went up in the 1940s drowning hundreds of Wintu villages, cemeteries, and sacred objects. Today the government wants to raise the dam even higher which would flood many more sacred sites ot this tribe. Lyla Johnston, a Stanford University researcher, says that the Winnemem Wintu have a “mutual and interdependent relationship with the local environment” and this water conflict is one between cultures, the industrial one, ever seeing rivers, lakes, and land only as resources, in this case water for the agribusiness corporations that control California’s Central Valley and siphon vast quantities of water from far away to feed their meat and plant factories that have riddled the region  with high levels of toxins. She states the raising of the dam would drown 50 more sacred and medicinal sites, and would be a form of ethnocide.


Johnston says of the Winnemem Wintu, that “they are the river and the river is them”  truly a culture of deep animist thought, perception and understanding. I think there is much to meditate on in that statement.


I think it is very important for Pagans to stand up for indigenous practitioners; many people pay lip service to native peoples of this continent, but for there to be understanding and future alliance-building Pagans (those of caucasian construction especially), need to support their struggles, both in terms of religious freedom, the environment and social justice. A button to make a donation can be found at this site:


Lyla Johnston’s informative video can be found here:


One thought on “The Winnemem Wintu’s Struggle for Religious Liberty

  1. Pingback: You can help « The House of Vines

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