Local Tribe Backs Out of Hosting ‘Freedom Conference’ Led by Inflammatory Ferndale Pastor Tyrel Bramwell

St. Mark Lutheran Church Pastor Tyrel Bramwell (screenshot via YouTube), and the sign outside his Ferndale church (submitted by Bramwell).


The Bear River Band of the Rohnerville Rancheria has opted not to provide space for an upcoming “Religious Liberty” conference hosted by local Pastor Tyrel Bramwell, who has stirred community discord in recent years with inflammatory messages posted to the sign outside his small Lutheran church in Ferndale.

Bramwell announced the tribe’s decision on his blog Monday morning in a post that originally misidentified the Bear River Band of the Rohnerville Rancheria as the Wiyot Tribe. (He corrected the tribe’s name after an inquiry from the Outpost.)

“After agreeing to rent us the Tish Non Room and providing a block of [hotel] rooms for our Freedom of Conscience and Religious Liberty Conference, scheduled for October 28, 2023, the Wiyot Tribe [sic] Bear River decided to return our deposit and release our rooms,” the post says. “The Tribal Chairman cited complaints about Pastor Bramwell’s public teaching as the reason for their reversal.”

Bramwell’s public messages, posted to the marquee outside St. Mark, have demonized the LGBTQ+ community repeatedly as well as female pastors, abortion, “woke America,” drag shows and the Black Lives Matter Movement.

But it was a message posted around this time last year that proved particularly offensive to local Native American communities. On October 10, officially recognized by the state and the county as Indigenous Peoples’ Day, Bramwell posted a message on his church marquee that read, “PRAISE GOD FOR COLUMBUS THE LOVING EVANGELIST.”

In an accompanying blog post and pamphlet that he handed out around town, Bramwell argued that Italian explorer Christopher Columbus, whose enslavement and violent abuse of native inhabitants of the West Indies is a well-documented matter of historical fact, couldn’t possibly be “a bad guy” because he “wanted to bring Christ to people deceived by paganism.”

By extension, Bramwell posited, the European settlers for whom Columbus “opened the door,” including Ferndale’s own Christian forefathers, were heroes who deserve to be defended against “the conquest of the county and the state as they work to undo the very identity of our village” by recognizing Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

He later gave a sermon in which he spoke admiringly of Seth Kinman, a 19th Century bear trapper, chair-maker and notoriously brutal “California Indian Killer,” who was among the first Anglo “settlers” in the Humboldt County region. An accompanying YouTube video uses Kinman as a metaphor, suggesting that an old yarn about his mule fighting off a grizzly bear should serve as a model for modern Ferndalians fighting off the “woke” “LGBTQ bears” who are out to seize Ferndale’s “provisions” by corrupting “the souls of our family and friends.”

The Bear River Band of the Rohnerville Rancheria did not respond to emails and phone messages seeking comment, so we don’t know for sure why they chose to cancel Bramwell’s reservation and return his deposit, but Wiyot Tribal Chair Ted Hernandez told the Outpost that he’s grateful for their decision.

The St. Mark sign before being corrected. | Submitted.

“The Wiyot Tribe supports Bear River in their decision to not host a conference that puts our community at risk and would like to give Bear River Band of Rohnerville Rancheria a public Hou’ (thank you) for their leadership.” Hernandez said in an emailed statement.

Wiyot Tribal Administrator Michelle Vassel said that now is a good time to draw attention to Bramwell’s divisive messages.

“Orange Shirt Day was on Saturday, September 30, which is an international day dedicated to honoring survivors and families of the Indigenous boarding school system, and memorializing the children who didn’t return home,” she said, offering a link to an investigative report into the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative.

Vassel also pointed to a recent dramatic depiction of such boarding schools on the critically acclaimed Hulu series Reservation Dogs, and she said Bramwell’s praise for Columbus and Kinman flies in the face of those men’s legacies among Indigenous peoples.

“We are still living with the intergenerational harm caused by boarding schools and fighting to seek justice for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Two-Spirit individuals,” Vassel wrote, citing a 2004 study that found gender-based violence, including sexual assault,  is committed against 78% to 85% of Indigenous Two Spirit individuals.

A 2008 study from the National Criminal Justice Reference Service found that American Indian and Alaska Native women suffer murder rates of up to ten times the national average and experience rape and other sexual assaults at a higher rate than African American and white women.

Vassel believes Bramwell’s words and actions have been counterproductive.

“We have spent generations working to heal from the horrific atrocities committed here and we are still healing,” she said. “In recent years we have seen great examples of how we can work together, the Indigenous and non-indigenous communities … to benefit everyone.  The Wiyot Tribe Stands with Bear River on their decision to keep our community safe.  As Tribal Communities we have a lived experience, we must intervene when hate is being promulgated in our communities our lives depend on it.”

The “Freedom of Conscience and Religious Liberty Conference” was scheduled to take place in the 3,500-square-foot Tish-Non Ballroom at Bear River Casino and Resort, with general admission tickets priced at $75.

In an email, Bramwell told the Outpost that the conference will now take place for free at his church.



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