Tuesday, February 06, 2024

Cover story: "Land Is Kin"

Dana Lloyd is assistant professor of Global Interdisciplinary Studies at Villanova University.

Her new book is Land Is Kin: Sovereignty, Religious Freedom, and Indigenous Sacred Sites.

Here she explains the connection of the book's cover to the pages within:
The image on the cover of Land Is Kin was taken by Karuk medicine man Charlie Thom, and his son, Michael, has given me permission to use it for the book’s cover. It is a picture of the High Country, a sacred place that was at the center of a dispute between the Yurok, Karuk, and Tolowa Indigenous nations of Northern California and the U.S. Forest Service.

Located in the aboriginal territory of the Karuk people, the High Country is about 300 miles northeast of San Francisco. A rural region surrounded by national forest, it is in the Klamath River basin. A series of peaks in the Siskiyou mountains ranging from 4500 to 5700 feet in elevation, it is about twenty miles east of the Pacific Ocean and thirty miles south of the Oregon-California border. The area is thickly forested by a mix of Douglas, white, and Shasta fir, sugar, western white, and Jeffrey pine, and incense cedar. Dense brush makes it hard, sometimes impossible, to access the area by car or even on foot. Chimney Rock, Doctor Rock, and Turtle Rock are some of the boulders and hills where medicine people can go to ask for powers that would allow them to perform ceremonial dances such as the Brush Dance, the White Deerskin Dance, and the Jump Dance, in order to restore balance to the universe. In the 1950s, the forest service decided to develop this area—to harvest 733 million board feet of timber over the course of eighty years and to construct 200 miles of logging roads in the areas adjacent to Chimney Rock. The Yurok, Karuk, and Tolowa peoples objected, and in the 1980s took the forest service to court, arguing that the constitution promises to protect their religious exercise in the High Country from intrusions such as that proposed by the federal government. This legal battle is at the heart of Land Is Kin.

I have never been to the High Country because it is not intended for me to visit, and I am not describing the religious practice that takes place there in the book because this knowledge is not mine to share. However, Charlie Thom’s description of the High Country appears in the introduction, and, accompanied by the image on the cover, I hope it gives the reader a sense of the place and its significance to the Yurok, Karuk, Tolowa, and Hupa peoples:
All the medicine mountains for the people around here are visible from that spot. Medicine Mountain in the Marble Mountain Wilderness, the Trinity Alps, Salmon River country. You can see all that, all the tips of the Siskiyou Mountains can be seen, and they’re all prayed over. Everything’s prayed over, Doctor Rock is right in view of Chimney Rock. Everything that we go through. Fasting—not eating for several days, very little liquid, maybe some acorn soup. Sweating to become purified before you go in there, so that you’re very clean. Those things are very true. You take a prayer that’s very strong that an Indian believes in, and you’ll find that it’s followed with stronger belief than any other religion.
I am grateful for the permission to use this image of the High Country, taken by such an important Karuk leader, to enable the reader to imagine the place they are reading about, the land that is the true heroine of this book. I hope it makes the reader care, as deeply as I do, about the fate of this land.
Learn more about Land Is Kin at the University Press of Kansas website.

The Page 99 Test: Land Is Kin.

--Marshal Zeringue