Bałas Chonas Letter

(Below is a template letter of support for a full closure of the McCloud River required for the Winnemem’s Bałas Chonas ceremony this July. Please copy and paste from here, and fax us a copy of the letter you send to (530) 275-4193.)

March 11, 2012

US Department of Agriculture

Secretary of Agriculture

Tom Vilsack

1400 Independence Ave., S.W.

Washington, DC 20250

Diane Feinstein

U.S. Senate

331 Hart Senate Office Building

Washington, DC 20510

Fax: 202-228-3954

Pacific Southwest Region

Regional Forester

Randy Moore

1323 Club Drive
Vallejo, CA 94592
Shasta-Trinity National Forest

Forest Supervisor

Sharon Heywood

3644 Avtech Parkway

Redding, CA 96002

Dear Ms. Heywood:

The Winnemem Wintu are a historical and traditional tribe recognized by the state of California and recognized by the U.S. Forest Service as the indigenous people of the McCloud River watershed. Since 2005, they have repeatedly asked representatives of the Forest Service to preserve the sanctity and safety of their women’s Coming of Age ceremony  – “Bałas Chonas”  – by enforcing a mandatory closure of a small 300-yard area of the McCloud River to boating and general access for the ceremony’s four days. Instead the Forest Service has enacted a “voluntary closure”, which has led the tribe and young women going through the ceremony to suffer harassment, threats, and racial slurs from outsiders traveling up and down the river.

Despite these documented desecrations of their ceremony, their requests for a mandatory closure have only been met with a lack of response or an ineffective effort to protect their traditions, which the United States government is mandated to do under the American Indian Religious Freedom Act.  This request from the Tribe is consistent with the USFS’s obligation required under the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act, 42 U.S.C. & 2000b et seq.,  not to burden any person’s exercise of religion or religious practices through the application of laws or rules of general applicability.

This year’s ceremony, which will take place June 30th thru July 3rd, is being held for the young woman who is training to become the next tribal leader. This means there is added importance on maintaining the security and sanctity of the ceremony.  Without closing the small portion of the river for such a short period of time to general recreational access and casual boaters, you will create an unsafe and tense situation for all, and you will put a young teenager, Marisa Sisk, through unnecessary trauma and anxiety.

There are several rules, regulations, Executive Orders, and laws – state, federal and international, that give you the power, the duty, and the responsibility to ensure the safety and sanctity of the ceremony. Barring listing all of those, I have included excerpts from the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples[1].

I believe these articles, along with the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, as well as Presidential Executive Orders, provide you clear legal and moral direction for ensuring the safety and sanctity of their ceremony and closing the river.

Please review these articles, as I believe they are justification for the Forest Service to make a reasonable accommodation and close the McCloud River. Following the rights outlined by the U.N. DRIP would enable the Winnemem Wintu to practice their traditional, cultural, spiritual customs free from molestation and interference.

I ____________________________ urge you the opportunity to abide by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and satisfy the needs of the Winnemem Wintu People. President Obama signed the Declaration December 16, 2010; you would be following what he supports as a national policy in respecting the Rights of this Nations Indigenous Peoples.

Sincerely,


[1] Article 11

1. Indigenous peoples have the right to practise and revitalize their

cultural traditions and customs. This includes the right to maintain,

protect and develop the past, present and future manifestations of

their cultures, such as archaeological and historical sites, artefacts,

designs, ceremonies, technologies and visual and performing arts

and literature.

2. States shall provide redress through effective mechanisms, which

may include restitution, developed in conjunction with indigenous

peoples, with respect to their cultural, intellectual, religious and spiritual

property taken without their free, prior and informed consent

or in violation of their laws, traditions and customs.

Article 12

1. Indigenous peoples have the right to manifest, practise, develop

and teach their spiritual and religious traditions, customs and ceremonies;

the right to maintain, protect, and have access in privacy

to their religious and cultural sites; the right to the use and control

of their ceremonial objects; and the right to the repatriation of their

human remains.

2. States shall seek to enable the access and/or repatriation of ceremonial

objects and human remains in their possession through fair,

transparent and effective mechanisms developed in conjunction with

indigenous peoples concerned.

Article 25

Indigenous peoples have the right to maintain and strengthen their

distinctive spiritual relationship with their traditionally owned or

otherwise occupied and used lands, territories, waters and coastal

seas and other resources and to uphold their responsibilities to

future generations in this regard.

Article 26

1. Indigenous peoples have the right to the lands, territories and

resources which they have traditionally owned, occupied or otherwise

used or acquired.

2. Indigenous peoples have the right to own, use, develop an

control the lands, territories and resources that they possess by reason

of traditional ownership or other traditional occupation or use,

as well as those which they have otherwise acquired.

3. States shall give legal recognition and protection to these lands, territories and resources. Such recognition shall be conducted with due respect to the customs, traditions and land tenure systems of the indigenous peoples concerned.

Distribution List

Names, Address and Fax

The Honorable Diane Feinstein

U.S. Senate

331 Hart Senate Office Building

Washington, DC 20510

Fax: 202-228-3954

cc:

The Honorable Barbara Boxer

112 Hart Senate Office Building

Washington, DC 20510

Fax: 202-228-3865

The Honorable Wally Herger

242 Cannon House Office Building

Washington, DC 20515

Fax: 202-226-0852

J. Sharon Heywood

Shasta-Trinity National Forest

Forest Supervisor

3644 Avtech Parkway Redding, CA 96002

Fax: 530-226-2471

Kristy Cottini, District Ranger

Shasta Trinity National Recreation Area

14225 Holiday Road, Redding, CA 96003

Fax: 530-275-1512

Tom Bosenko

Shasta County Sheriff

1525 Court St

Redding, CA 96001

Fax: 530-245-6054

Captain David Dean

Boating Safety Unit

Shasta County Sheriff

Fax: 530-245-6076

Ryan Harvey, Special Agent

Law Enforcement Unit

USDA Forest Service

3644 Avtech Parkway, Redding, CA 96002

Fax: 530-226-2471

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