Statement regarding status of Forest Service negotiations for Balas Chonas (Coming of Age Ceremony)

7/2/13 –We are very concerned at the status of negotiations with the US Forest Service for a Balas Chonas (Coming of Age Ceremony) for sixteen year-old Alicia Scholfield, scheduled to take place in 18 days. After two meetings and numerous phone and email interactions with the regional level Tribal Liaison, Robert Goodwin, we have suddenly, without notice or discussion, been shifted down to the “Forest” level, and told that we would now be dealing with personnel of the Shasta-Trinity National Forest, where we have found little respect over the past ten years. Despite key local staff disregard for prior agreements, and lack of cultural awareness, the regional and national management of the Forest Service wants us to believe that this office will do its very best to ensure that we are able to hold a ceremony in peace and dignity, without abusive interruptions by members of the public or law enforcement officers.Furthermore, while on the one hand we are told that our international awareness campaign is having an affect, and that high level personnel of the Department of Agriculture are interested in our situation, on the other hand we are informed that, not being a “federally recognized” tribe, we are not worthy of protection against intrusion into our ceremonial activities. So, overall, we are not convinced that this agency wants to shift away from obstruction toward cooperation.

Beyond US Federal law, which we believe affords us the right to hold ceremony on our traditional lands without interruption, the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which President Obama endorsed in 2010, specifically addresses our rights in this situation. As noted in the 2012 “Indian Sacred Sites” Report to the Secretary of the US Department of Agriculture:

“Article 12 declares the right of indigenous peoples to manifest, practice, develop, and teach their spiritual and religious traditions, customs, and ceremonies; to maintain, protect, and have access in privacy to their religious and cultural sites…”
It is time for the US Forest Service to work with all tribal people, and in this case the Winnemem Wintu of the McCloud River, and act in a way that will help promote healthy Native communities.
Women_Banner_Poster 3_2013(1)
We are at a critical point, and we ask Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell to personally ensure that this ceremony — which is of critical importance to the women and men of our tribe, young and old alike — will be approached by his agency’s personnel with the respect that it deserves. We call on our supporters worldwide to continue to contact Chief Tidwell (, 202-205-8439) to let him know that you are looking forward to a peaceful and dignified Coming of Age Ceremony for the Winnemem Wintu Tribe.We are prepared to do whatever is necessary to ensure that this spiritual event can proceed with dignity and without interruption, and if that can happen with the cooperation and support of the US Forest Service, the US Department of Agriculture and the US Government in general, then everyone will be able to celebrate!

Coming of Age Ceremony food donations

women are sacred centerOur Coming of Age ceremony for Alicia Scholfield will be held July 20-23 at the McCloud Bridge campground in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest.

Dancing will be every day.

The cook tent is open for the duration of the ceremony, and we will feed ceremony guests. Be sure to bring snacks and please bring a food donation (list below). Try to bring your own plates and silverware or compostable silverware.

The tradition is that we cook what people bring. Making dishes ahead of time and bringing them to ceremony frozen is extremely helpful.

If you have specific dietary needs – vegan, gluten-free, etc. – be sure to bring food that can made into those types of dishes.

Stuff to Bring

Insect spray, your own chair, flashlights, camping gear, first aid kids, any prescription medicines you require, hats, sunscreen, water canteens, swimsuits and towels. Plastic Bottled water is banned at ceremony.

Food Donations

If you are coming to ceremony, please consider bringing a food donation.

Meals are an important part of our ceremonies, and it is our responsibility to feed all who attend, But as a small tribe with limited resources, we need assistance, especially it will be hard to estimate how many will attend. Here is the list.

Please email what you’re going to bring to the head of the ceremony kitchen , Joe -

Meats (cooked for meals or cooked in stews and already frozen)



beef roast stew


browned hamburger

chicken, precooked and frozen for dishes

Vegetarian stews (packaged and frozen)

Chili beans (packaged and frozen)


fresh vegetables like

summer squash








any kind of veggies, but preferably those which can be used to make a meal with other things.

Fresh fruit and melons for breakfast

Lots of tortillas,

Potatoes for potato salad or breakfast already cooled and bagged up

macaroni already cooked and bagged up


bread and sandwich fixing.

If bringing cold cuts, they should be frozen and put into the cooler together.

We need mayonnaise,

spaghetti sauce,

salad dressings




Rice milk, lactaid milk,

almond milk.

Press Release: Winnemem Wintu Seek Volunteers, Donations to Hold Coming of Age Ceremony in Peace and Dignity

For Immediate Release:


Winnemem Wintu Seek Volunteers, Donations to Hold Coming of Age Ceremony in Peace and Dignity


After harassment from boaters and law enforcement in previous years, U.S. Forest Service still not committed to river and land closure for ceremony

June 10, 2013 – Tuiimyali, California


Press Contact: David Martinez – (530) 472-1050, Michael Preston – 530-410-9768


The Winnemem Wintu tribe is seeking volunteers and donations to help enforce a half-mile closure of the McCloud River to maintain the peace and dignity of their upcoming Coming of Age ceremony for 16-year-old Alicia Scholfield July 20-23.

Previous ceremonies have faced documented harassment, but the U.S. Forest Service, which now manages the former Winnemem village site where the ceremony takes place, has yet to respond to the tribe’s list of needs and requirements to hold a ceremony.

The tribe initially contacted the U.S. Forest Service’s Regional Forester Randy Moore in November of 2012 to consult about the upcoming ceremony, and received no response till March. Now two months away from the ceremony, the Forest Service has yet to respond to the tribe’s list of needs, which include a mandatory river closure of the half-mile stretch of waterway, the right to gather culturally required forest resources and the right to use a motorboat to transport elders across the river for ceremonial activities.

With or without the official closure, the tribe plans to use volunteers in kayaks and other boats to ask people in recreational boats to turn around. Donations are also needed to help support the volunteers on the water, fund security and for ceremonial meals.

Supporters can donate by pressing the donate button at They can volunteer to help on the water by emailing us at

We are also asking supporters to e-mail U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell at urging him to uphold his legal responsibility to respect indigenous ceremonies and meet our needs for a peaceful ceremony.

Since 2006, the Winnemem Wintu Tribe have struggled to hold Coming of Age ceremonies (BaŁas Chonas) free of harassment and abuse. In 2006 and 2010, recreational boaters ignored “voluntary” closures on the McCloud River and drunkenly harassed and flashed the tribe. In 2012, Forest Service law enforcement officers constantly interrupted the ceremony and threatened tribal members with arrest. Our Traditional Chief Sisk Caleen Sisk received two citations that could have resulted in a year in prison.

Eventually, the meritless citations were dropped by federal attorneys.

(Watch the 20-minute documentary “Ceremony Is Not A Crime” to learn more about last year’s ceremony and the citations.

U.S. Forest Service officials have said they could easily provide a river closure and protect the ceremony appropriately if we were not labeled as a federally unrecognized tribe. The Winnemem Wintu believe the label of “unrecognized tribe” violates our right to self-determination as provided by the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and we believe it is also a form of cultural genocide as it restricts our rights to maintain our culture and lives as indigenous people.

The ceremony site is located on a portion of the McCloud River that would be permanently submerged by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s proposal to raise Shasta Dam by 18.5 feet to provide more water for agri-industry and wealthy water contractors in Southern California. Overall, more than 40 sacred sites important  to the Winnemem’s way of life would be submerged or impacted by the dam raise.

For more information about the ceremony, visit

Dancing Salmon Home May Screenings in Northern California

Dancing Salmon Home, winner of the American Indian Film Festival best documentary award, will be having screenings around California. Here are some upcoming dates:

  • Thursday, May 9 – ArcataDancing Salmon Home Film ShowingQ & A with the film’s director, Will Doolittle and Chief Caleen Sisk, Winnemem Wintu TribeHumboldt State University7:00 pm

    Native American Forum (Behavior and Social Sciences Bldg, Rm 162)

    1 Harpst St, Arcata

    Tickets: $7


  • Friday, May 10 – Smith RiverDancing Salmon Home Film Showing & DinnerQ & A with the film’s director, Will Doolittle and Chief Caleen Sisk, Winnemem Wintu Tribe6 pm

    Howonquet Hall Community Center

    101 Indian Court

    Smith River, CA

    [No ticket info yet]


  • Saturday, May 11 – HoopaDancing Salmon Home Film Showing & DinnerQ & A with the film’s director, Will Doolittle and Chief Caleen Sisk, Winnemem Wintu TribeHoopa Neighborhood Facility

    4:00-6:00 pm: Turkey Dinner – $7.00/Plate

    6:00 pm: Film Showing – $7 General; $5 Seniors & Children


Synopsis: Dancing Salmon Home tells the story of a journey of loss and reunification, across generations and oceans, as the Winnemem Wintu tribe of Northern California travels to New Zealand to meet their long-lost Chinook salmon relatives, which have been missing from their McCloud River homeland for 65 years.

Along the way, the 28 tribal members hold four days of ceremony beside New Zealand’s Rakaia River, forging enduring bonds with the Maori people of the region, sharing a message of respect for the natural world, and launching plans to bring their salmon home.

Dancing Salmon Home-Trailer, 6 min. from Moving Image on Vimeo.

Winnemem Wintu’s Comments Opposing GMO Salmon

Re: Docket No. FDA–2011–N–0899

Draft Environmental Assessment and (FONSI) Preliminary Finding of No Significant Impact Concerning a Genetically Engineered Atlantic Salmon

These comments are submitted on behalf of The Winnemem Wintu Tribe of Northern California, Caleen Sisk, Chief – on behalf of herself as Chief, and on behalf of the tribe, and by Claire Hope Cummings, M.A., J.D., a lawyer and expert on the use of genetic engineering in food and agriculture.

Summary: The cultural, social, and economic impacts of this application must be considered. A full EIS is essential to evaluate this unprecedented and controversial product and all its complex international and domestic health, cultural, environmental, policy and legal implications.

We make four arguments:

1. NEPA and other federal laws require a full study of this application. Both study and consultation with native tribes to evaluate the cultural, social, economic, health and other human impacts is legally and factually appropriate.

2. Salmon are a vital cultural, nutritional, and economic part of the lives of native people in North America and therefore any artificial genetic alteration of any salmon must be studied carefully to consider the social and economic impacts on human populations and communities.

3. There is precedent for U.S. government to take legal action in response to the cultural impacts of the transgenic manipulation of a species that has high cultural value. In Hawaii, taro has spiritual significance to Native Hawaiians, just as the salmon do to Native Americans. Both state and local government in Hawaii have taken legislative action to consider, study, and ban the genetic manipulation of taro on this cultural basis.

4. The EA assumes that the applicant’s precautions will prevent environmental harm, without requiring a showing or scientific assessment of essential issues, in particular, waste water from facilities used to produce, grow and process the transgenic salmon. An alarming new study finding transgenic antibiotic resistant molecules in open rivers means that the applicant may be polluting water with modified molecules. Thus the applicant and FDA must first carefully study and take action to control the impact of these transgenic fish have on water at all stages of growth, including any dead fish, the fry, any eggs or other fish parts on all water ways, including the water used in transportation and in preparation of fish products, water used and disposed of in commerce as well as all the resulting health impacts on human communities.

The Winnemem Wintu Tribe Address: 14840 Bear Mountain Road, Redding, CA. 96003 The Winnemem are a salmon culture living in Shasta County, California. Winnemem means “middle water” and refers to the McCloud River, internationally renown for its fishing. In 1872, the very first US Fish Hatchery at Baird was established on the McCloud River. The Winnemem Wintu people taught Livingston Stone about the wild Chinook Salmon and eventually worked at the hatchery. Salmon have always been a part of the Winnemem diet and subsistence fishing practices but they are far more important than that to the Winnemem people’s beliefs and values.


In their own words: “We are a traditional tribe who inhabits our ancestral territory from Mt. Shasta down the McCloud River watershed. When the Shasta Dam was constructed during World War II, it flooded our home and blocked the salmon runs. The salmon are an integral part of our life ways and of a healthy McCloud River watershed. We believe that when the last salmon is gone, humans will be gone too. Our fight to return the salmon to the McCloud River is no less than a fight to save the Winnemem Wintu Tribe. As salmon people and middle water people we advocate for all aspects of clean water and the restoration of salmon to their natural spawning grounds. Sawal Mem, Sawal Suhana (Sacred Water, Sacred Life)”

A film about the tribe’s work to return the salmon to the McCloud River is called: Dancing the Salmon Home. <>

Chief Sisk insists that the FDA understand that salmon, all salmon, is sacred and salmon must not be genetically altered. “After all the struggles and strife of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe to sing, dance, and retain ceremonies for salmon, we are still here to give voice for the future of salmon in the struggle to exist in our natural state because we carry the gift of voice given to human by salmon. The best work to restore Chinook Salmon to natural habitats must take precedence over all other planned changes to salmon. The healthier the salmon runs, the healthier the water is for all of us. Our songs and dances are for the salmon that was created by Olebis (Creator) and the salmon are the “rightful” water companions for all.”

Claire Hope Cummings, is a Distinguished Fellow at The Cultural Conservancy. ( ) Now a retired lawyer, she formerly represented the Winnemem Wintu Tribe in its affairs with federal agencies, and was formerly a staff attorney for the Office of General Counsel, USDA. Ms. Cummings is an authority on the use of recombinant DNA technology in food and agriculture and author of Uncertain Peril, Genetic Engineering and the Future of Seeds, Beacon Press, 2008 which won both the American Book Award in 2009 and the Outstanding Book Award from the Society for Economic Botany. Her extensive experience in both cultural preservation and genetic engineering make her uniquely qualified to comment on this application.

1. NEPA Compliance and other legal issues:

The decision to disregard the cultural, nutritional, environmental, economic, and sociological issues implicated in this application is not supported by the facts, policy, science, or the law. The FONSI states that the “social, economic and cultural effects of the proposed action on the United States have not been analyzed and evaluated because the analysis in the draft EA preliminarily indicates that the proposed action will not significantly affect the physical environment of the United States.

In full, the draft EA states that the “Social, economic, and cultural effects have not been analyzed and evaluated in this draft EA. Courts have held that under NEPA, social and economic effects must be considered only once it has been determined that the proposed agency action significantly affects the physical environment. Our analysis in this draft EA preliminarily indicates that the proposed action will not significantly affect the physical environment; therefore, economic and social effects on the United States have not been evaluated.”

Their analysis is nonexistence. The draft EA shows that this position is based on assumptions, not analysis is show, and thus the conclusion is unfounded. Nothing was done to go beyond considering the self-defined physical environment. However the physical environment includes more than it considered in the EA. Therefore the economic and social effects were eliminated from consideration without examining them. The applicant is saying that since they decided not to look at the cultural issues, they know those issues will not be impacted. This focus on the “physical environment of the United States” is a ruse and the applicant ignores obvious physical and other interrelated complex aspects of this proposed organism as it applies in the U.S.

The question the FDA must ask is who decided on this narrow focus? On what basis? Why was no process involved? Were the genes used in this construct considered part of the physical environment? They are still present in the fish being sold in the U.S. and is the fact of it being transgenic. Did they consult native tribes for whom salmon is a sacred being about the physical impact on them of this product when it is imported into the U.S? Was this an arbitrary a priori decision or a planned avoidance of the issue?

The Winnemem are charged with responsibility for the health of the salmon, the waters, and the people. The Winnemem have a sacred trust. The federal government has a public trust to consider the same waters and Tribal ways of life that include the interdependency of water and salmon. Had consultation occurred, as mandated by law, this error in assumption and focus would have been obvious. What we are saying is that even if you define physical to only include the finished product imported into the U.S. for sale, these impacts are extensive and interrelated and thus unavoidable.


The EA does not show any studies, consultation, or facts to support the contention that this product has no physical impact in the United States. We are providing here, just several of many compelling reasons why there is an impact. The mere fact that hundreds of thousands of U.S. citizens have commented on this proposed product and stated their opposition to it on economic, moral, social and cultural grounds in itself raises the issue because to them what they eat is a social and moral issue – thus the product has BOTH physical and social impact. What a person eats is both physical and social. That is a fact.


The fact that this is the first transgenic living animal to be produced for human food in the United States makes it an economic, social, cultural, and physical issue. The comments of dozens of native salmon and fishing tribes objecting to transgenic salmon, is plain evidence that there are social, cultural, and economic impacts. Ignoring this information is a violation of NEPA.


Another physical issue is the genetic construct itself. The genes of Chinook Salmon will change the character of the transgenic Atlantic fish, but the Winnemem are concerned that it will also cause a vulnerability to the Chinook Salmon and cause a rippling effect of all the ecosystem that depends on Chinook. The beliefs involved are based in both the physical issues and its cultural and spiritual properties. “We, the Winnemem Tribe, as a salmon people, will see, feel, and taste these effects before others and feel the impacts before other populations as we depend on salmon in a cultural way.”


Another violation of NEPA is obvious in the Draft EA in that it details the applicant’s twisted and expensive efforts to avoid the legal constraints governing this unique and unpopular product. It should be asked: why has the applicant gone to such extraordinary lengths, such as developing the eggs in Canada, shipping them to Panama for growing out and processing before shipping the product to the U.S for marketing? Is this being done to avoid U.S. law? And if so, why is the FDA allowing this unusual process to go forward since it is obviously constructed to go around rather than comply with U.S. law?


Furthermore, once approved, the EA does not evaluate all federal regulatory system issues and thus is not adequate to oversee the importation of the processed fish and its physical and health impacts in the U.S. The EA does not show how this importation might involve the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Customs and Border Protection , the APHIS/USDA and the National Marine Fisheries Service regulations, not to mention Clean Water Act since transgenic molecules will be distributed from this product into U.S. waters. Have the possible defect action levels (DALS) for the FDA in the imported fish been evaluated in advance, such as molds, excreta and insect parts given that they will be grown out in the tropics. Will color additives, packaging, and other issues be evaluated and by whom, under what conditions? Will it carry an import label? Where is the evaluation process for “import” into and out of countries and their food distribution system? Will new importation and related production plants be developed in the US based on the first production process in other counties?  In other words, will genetically engineered salmon or fish parts from Canada to Panama go through any special permit process before being imported into the US?


We have special concerns about the microbial effects on all the water involved. There will be water changes as the fish go from Canada to Panama to USA. This physical issue must not be ignored. The transport water is unstudied as is water used in the disposal processes of dead or unused fish parts. The applicant decided that only certain physical issues are to be considered, but even those were of extremely limited scope, given the complexity and unique origin and production process used for this product. The intention apparently is not to comply with U.S. law but to circumvent environmental and perhaps customs regulations.


The approval of this application on the basis of a FONSI is tantamount to agreeing to this ruse and being complicit in undermining the basic mission of the agency. The hazards that are proposed and evaluated in the EA are very real (exposure pathways) but they are an insufficient means to fully evaluate the scope and complexity that the first live transgenic animal implies.


As the FONSI admits, the production of this product outside the United States is always a possibility, regardless of what the agency does. And the uncertainty and variables are extremely unpredictable and very much outside the scope of this NEPA assessment. Apparently, to prevent an “outside the United States” threat, the FDA has decided to ignore the obvious problems and impose some weak conditions on its production. Again, this makes no sense since these conditions are, by definition offshore, and thus are not adequately enforceable.


Another way the agency is assisting this applicant in its contravention of U.S. law is by making the “no effect” determination under ESA and the “no significant effect” under NEPA. In the language of NEPA and the FONSI, the agency says it has “no significant effect on the quality of the human environment in the United States.” We completely disagree and suggest this decision is not only in violation of U.S. law, it is arbitrary and without foundation. Or perhaps it is a purposely politically motivated decision on the part of the FDA to favor a single commercial biotechnology company acting against the public interest.


2. Why do cultural and social issues matter in this case?


A “finding of no significant impact” on “the human environment,” as defined in Sec. 1508.14 is that “human environment” shall be interpreted comprehensively to include the natural and physical environment and the relationship of people with that environment. (Sec. 1508.8).) While “economic or social effects are not intended by themselves to require preparation of an environmental impact statement” they must not be disregarded when compelling cultural and economic interests of impacted human communities are made clear to the agency. We submit that compelling interests apply here.


The FDA has not consulted with those tribes and fishing groups who are directly impacted by this application. Tribes have sent comments on this FONSI detailing the cultural and economic issues include the Aleutian Pribilof Island Community Development Association and the Sitka Conservation Society of Alaska, The Karuk Tribe of Northern California, and The Inter-Tribal Sinkyone Wilderness Council, ourselves and others. Fishing interests and environmental groups have given even more details regarding the impacts and we join in these multifaceted objections.


NEPA extends to “the natural and physi­cal environment and the relationship of people with that environment.”  Agencies must assess the “aesthetic, historic, cultural economic, social, or health [effects]…whether direct, indirect, or cumulative” (40 CFR 1508.8) Furthermore, the definition of “significantly” under NEPA (Sec. 1508.27) the extent to which something is uncertain, establishes a precedent, is unique or controversial, all of which apply here, there is a greater duty to evaluate the risks. And especially if the possible effects are unique or unknown, as established here, thus a FONSI is inappropriate.


The entire FDA process is thus distorted by the lack of giving the greatest airing of issues, study of alternatives, and public involvement which is absolutely necessary in this case. Primarily, however, we argue that there is such widespread and longstanding cultural significance to salmon that to disregard it is not only a violation of all applicable laws protecting culture, it is also an act of racism and religious discrimination.


In brief, salmon are integral to cultures, ecology, and economic lives of all who live in the West and Northwest. There has been so much degradation to salmon habitat in the region, many runs are endangered and salmon, although it is a totem animal for many people, are in a precarious situation with an uncertain future. Both commercial and native fishing communities have depended on salmon runs for over a hundred years. The traditions of tribes are special in that they also make cultural connections to the restoration of these salmon runs.


The indigenous cultures that have occupied the coast and inland water ways have traditions that go back thousands of years involving salmon. Salmon are at the heart of their lives and ceremonies. Ecologically, the salmon are as vital to the West coast as the redwood forests, bears and eagles, all of which are part of an intricate web involving the entire cultural and natural basis of life. All of these living organisms, along with the Winnemem Wintu are now known to have Chinook Salmon DNA in their make-up. And this applicant is using Chinook genes in their patented product, in direct violation of Winnemem values.  Chief Sisk: “Salmon songs, dances, and drum beats on the rivers reaches the life of salmon just as the high mountain waters call them home from the ocean.  This ancient and culturally practiced process is one that brings required health to all waters and mountains for all living things in reach of salmon. We realize that our “Science” and our cultural knowledge is overlooked in these studies.” The cultural implications, generally speaking, should be obvious. And the law requires that they be considered. “Our traditional and cultural science should be considered since we hold the most senior water rights and fishing rights for the Chinook salmon.”


Does the fact that this transgenic salmon implicates genes from the Atlantic and Chinook salmon, along with ocean pout (and undoubtedly other patented genetic constructs) matter? While it is not stated anywhere this commenter can find in the EA, is it a presumption that all these specific salmon genes, when removed to a laboratory or fish hatchery, somehow exempts these fish from being considered “salmon” as the ordinary person might think of it? If it is not salmon in the ordinary sense, what is it? The FDA considers this to be a “drug” that will be consumed by humans but it does not require that drug to be tested on humans or even rats. Thus using GRAS in this situation is simply not logical. It is either a food, or it is a drug. If it is a drug it must be tested before allowing people to ingest it. And yet no human health impacts are being considered for the product itself or the genetic constructs that have been added to the product. “Since Winnemem and other tribes are major salmon eating peoples it would seem that the effects would be levied in our communities first, therefore, we must insist that FDA require long range testing and results that transgenic salmon will have on babies, children at stages of growth, adults and diseases of multiplying cell structures. Also, studies should include the effects of consuming less Omega 3 and less healthy Omega 3 as well.”


The transgenic Atlantic salmon would replace high quality salmon with a low quality fast growing salmon that is also a potential health hazard – and this is being allowed only for the sake of fish sales at the market. The social fact is that there is clear and abundant opposition to this product in the U.S. and it will face an outright ban in other countries. Ultimately, this poor quality fish will undermine the place of salmon in the North American diet. Rather than substituting one dietary item for another, transgenic salmon will in fact reduce the social and dietary value of salmon entirely.


There are several issues here. One is the FDA, incorrectly, but for purposes of this argument, is operating on the assumption that conventional foods and transgenic foods are alike. If that is the case, then all the beliefs and cultural issues of native people related to salmon are definitely implicated. If it is equivalent, then the cultural aspects of that generic “salmon” must be considered. And as we show here, the biosecurity and the inherent integrity of this organism is a crucial social, cultural and biological value.


According to the Winnemem and other tribes, the genes of the Chinook are the Chinook. “The Chinook are guided by the stars, the oceans currents and fresh waters, the songs, the dances, fires and the drums that call them up river to the streams and tributaries. This is a great fish that we should be doing all that we can to bring them back in the appropriate numbers in the wild and in the healthy rivers to benefit world health. They are here for us, they support our life and instead of misusing the salmon for private profit they should be restored to their natural and sacred place in our rivers.”


Other relevant cultural issues include the fact that Winnemem believe that “whatever a person eats becomes a part of them. This is why the cultural traditions includes ways of taking a live relative (animal) for food. The prayers one learns for taking and gathering the foods has a profound effect on a person’s physical health, mental health, and growing connections of responsibilities to and for each other as well as for the lands and waters we relate to. This must be seen as an “extreme” effort to replace “real salmon” with untested and less quality fish. Perhaps, this is a way to ignore needs of “Chinook salmon” in the watersheds and open waters. It would seem that this is a violation of a public trust and definitely a violation of cultural and traditional obligations to tribes. It must be evaluated when the public is expected to become reliant on a transgenic farmed food, while slowly replacing an existing high quality health food. It must also be acknowledged that the existence of what the public calls a “Frankenfish” is unmeasured in threatening with a profound impact on the environment and waterways of the natural wild salmon. It must also be realized that Tribes will be among the first to suffer the results of the modified unlabeled “Frankenfish.” It will change health standards to below what it is now understood as the Omega 3 and nutrimental values in the wild fish, while the farmed transgenic fish values will be below human health needs, noting as well the effects of the hormone risks to a vulnerable peoples of all ages. The Winnemem also call attention to the use of antibiotics as a way of reducing the quality of food, by overriding the natural process of selection leaving the healthiest to survive that provide the healthiest food sources. This healthy stock proves to reproduce healthiest stocks of food sources. This understanding is part of the ceremonies for all plants, trees, animals, birds, fish, water and air.


The Winnemem Wintu are concerned that when salmon is altered by man in any way then it does not retain the right to be called a “salmon” and that this transgenic fish will confuse consumers.  Chief Sisk says: “Man made GE salmon no longer holds the knowledge of wild salmon and must not be confused with “real” salmon. Just as only certain people can be called Winnemem Wintu because of DNA and the fact that they have the same contact with the environment and cultural and traditional jobs and knowledge they are responsible to and for within that place, the make-up of salmon has so much to do with the waterways they swim in and that salmon, without that waterway knowledge, is not a salmon!


People should not be mislead to think that growing this product in another country means it is anywhere near as healthy as real salmon who have to battle their way home. The relationship between the fish, the place, the waters, the rivers and the ocean are part of an ancient covenant that the government must respect and preserve  Our tribal ceremonies cannot help the man -designed low life GE fish. No dancing and no drum beat vibration in the waters will give the heart life to this fake and genetically dumb transgenic fish. Tribal rights adheres to one ingredient foods like “real salmon” un- altered salmon as being the healthiest foods.  The tribes are among the highest health risk humans that have been impacted by fake foods of all kinds.  Doing this extreme experiment to this one food, salmon, the healthiest food choice that tribes rely on, is “wrong” is countless ways.”


However it is regarded, as unique in its transgenic form, or as equivalent, it is called a salmon and will be marketed in the U.S. as salmon. Thus it is entitled to be regarded as such, by consumers, along with all its full social and cultural values involved in the United States. Because salmon have deep cultural and economic roots in America, the meaning it has to these native tribes and their beliefs is entitled to the full protection of U.S. law and even the meaning it has to any consumer as a high value food should be protected. Approving this application will degrade salmon as we have known it.


There is a tendency in federal agencies to forget that America is made up of many diverse cultures, particularly the unique cultural values of its original inhabitants. Setting aside the obvious racial implications of this longstanding bias, there is a sound legal framework that requires federal agencies to take cultural and historic conservation into account.


Assuming the FDA do not have anthropologists, ethnographers and other social scientists on staff, there are easy ways to review available data on the topic of the cultural significance of salmon in the U.S. A simple search on line shows that salmon are commonly held to be sacred by many Native Americans. Searching for “salmon and native ceremony” yielded 1,960,000 results. These values are not restricted to native peoples within the context of their own communities.


For many Americans, eating salmon, enjoying it as part of the rivers and coastal waters is a “quality of life” issue. Most Americans, native and non-native, place a high value on our diverse traditional native heritage and food ways and the law protects those interests as well. Respecting salmon as a totem animal is a value based not only in native cultures but across the board and is the basis of a thriving tourism and related economic activity. Salmon, as we know it now, is a life style value throughout North America. Seventy percent of British Columbians say that “maintaining and restoring salmon runs in B.C. is as important to British Columbians as protecting French is to Quebeckers.”


Nor is salmon ceremony restricted to native religions, but may involve both native and Christian elements. For instance an abstract of “The Fish God Gave Us” The First Salmon Ceremony Revived says: “Following the 1974 court order restoring their treaty-guaranteed salmon fishing rights, Coast Salish Indians of Puget Sound have reinstituted the long abandoned First Salmon Ceremony. The restored ceremony follows the pattern established in the nineteenth century of incorporating Christian symbols into native rituals and appealing to a Supreme Being as the ultimate source of legitimacy. However, it differs from other contemporary Indian rituals significantly, because it expresses a direct connection between ritual and economic power and because it attempts to justify the new economic order to non-Indians as well as Indians by emphasizing the antiquity of Indian association with salmon and the special God-given role Indians play in preserving this resource for all people of the Northwest.”


In the case of the Winnemem Wintu, Chief Sisk says: “Salmon is in our traditional stories, songs and dances. We must stay pure to exist in the ancient circle connecting our tribal customs to salmon. The Winnemem Wintu have a right to protect salmon, and certainly NOT allow them to be genetically modified in anyway. They must not have their genes and DNA subject to exploring ideas. It must be recognized as an inherent right of Indigenous Peoples for the Winnemem Wintu to hold the salmon as a relative that is so intrinsic to our culture. There are complete ecosystems based on the clarity, knowledge and health of the salmon.”

“The Winnemem Wintu object to GE production, as it would certainly impact our obligation to salmon and would change the traditional responsibility to salmon and our relationship that exits for thousands of years. It is also the right of the tribes to expect the same engagement with the nutritional values such as the Omega 3′s to maintain a quality of health. Salmon are part of our traditional exchange with the Winnemem Wintu, the trees, birds, animals, plants and soils as they purify the waters on each of their once in their life journey.”



Our Dancing Salmon Home documentary to premiere in Redding

Dancing Salmon Home, winner of the American Indian Film Festival best documentary award, will have it’s premiere screening in Redding on Friday, April 12 at Shasta College! Buy your tickets today! Children under 12 get in free.

  • When: 6:30 p.m. Friday, April 12.
  • Where: Shasta College, Room 800, Rm 802, 11555 Old Oregon Trail, Redding.
  • Featuring: Introduction by the film’s director and a presentation by Chief Sisk of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe.
  • Other: Suggested donation is $7. Use the East Parking lot. Parking is free.

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Synopsis: Dancing Salmon Home tells the story of a journey of loss and reunification, across generations and oceans, as the Winnemem Wintu tribe of Northern California travels to New Zealand to meet their long-lost Chinook salmon relatives, which have been missing from their McCloud River homeland for 65 years.

Along the way, the 28 tribal members hold four days of ceremony beside New Zealand’s Rakaia River, forging enduring bonds with the Maori people of the region, sharing a message of respect for the natural world, and launching plans to bring their salmon home.

Dancing Salmon Home-Trailer, 6 min. from Moving Image on Vimeo.

Come Rally for Justice for Chief Sisk – 8 a.m. Oct. 16

Winnemem Wintu Chief and Spiritual Leader Caleen Sisk faces up to a year in prison or a $10,000 fine for the ceremony citations.

The Winnemem Wintu are calling for supporters, allies and friends to come rally in support of Chief Caleen Sisk as she has her court date for two unjust citations she received July 4 from the U.S. Forest Service for holding ceremony.

The rally will be held at 8 a.m. Tuesday, Oct. 16, outside the East California Federal Courthouse at 2689 Bechelli Lane, Redding, CA.

After public pressure helped secure a river closure so the Winnemem Wintu could hold our Coming of Age ceremony in peace and dignity free of public harassment this July, the Forest Service displayed their true colors.

Chief Sisk and supporters try to stop the Forest Service from towing the boat required for ceremony on July 2.

While we were threatened by the public on land and water, U.S.F.S. law enforcement harassed us constantly, and used our own closure against us. They tried to stop us from using our own motor boat to ferry elders, including disabled women, across the river for ceremonial purposes.

They ended up writing our Chief two citations, each punishable by $5,000 or 6 months, for using a boat to ferry elders across the river in the closure area.

On Oct. 16, the Chief will have her first court hearing. Come help show that this kind of harassment will not be tolerated, and the US Forest Service needs to stop interfering and punishing tribal leaders for holding ceremony!

Press Release: BIA Meeting Will End Chief Sisk’s Twenty-Four Day Fast, Wednesday, July 11th

For Immediate Release:  July 9, 2012

For more information:

Gary Hayward Slaughter Mulcahy, Government Liaison: 916-214-8493

Bureau of Indian Affairs and Winnemem Wintu Tribal Chief Caleen Sisk to discuss issues regarding tribal recognition to protect sacred sites and ceremonies.

On Friday, July 6th, Dr. Virgil Akins, Superintendent, BIA of Northern California agreed to meet with Winnemem Wintu Tribal Chief and Spiritual Leader, Caleen Sisk to discuss the issues surrounding a ‘technical correction’ to restore the tribe’s status as a federally recognized tribe.

The tribe lost their recognition due to a bureaucratic error in the mid-80s, and the California State Assembly, through AJR -39, and the California Native American Heritage Commission have long urged the federal government to restore that recognition.

The meeting, scheduled for Wednesday July 11th, will end the twenty-four day fast of Chief Sisk and her nephew Arron Sisk, who have sought the BIA’s intervention into the U.S. Forest Service’s inability to protect the Tribe’s recent Coming of Age Ceremony on the McCloud River arm of Shasta Lake.

At previous Coming of Age ceremonies for the tribe’s young women, the Forest Service has only enforced voluntary closures, which many recreational boaters have ignored – leading to well documented racial slurs, harassment, and abusive language (

For six years, the Tribe has asked the Forest service for a mandatory closure of the area because of the harassment, but Forest Service officials say no law allows them to do it.  The Tribe cites the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, the 2008 Farm Bill sec. 8104, and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples signed by President Obama as more than enough authority, but Regional Forester Randy Moore stated that the tribe is not a ‘federally recognized’ tribe and therefore the provisions in those authorities do not apply.

After a great deal of public pressure, a mandatory closure of the river was issued this year for ‘safety’ reasons, but the Forest Service said they had no authority to close off the land area to anyone that wished to enter because the tribe was not federally recognized.  During past ceremonies the tribe not only suffered harassment from boaters, but also disruptions of the ceremony by fishermen walking through the ceremonial grounds, and curiosity seekers coming into camp.

Because of the Forest Service’s lack of authority to issue a full mandatory closure of the area, Spiritual and Tribal Leader Sisk has been fasting and praying since Monday, June 18th, that the Forest Service, BIA, or whoever has the authority to grant the tribes request for full closure of their ceremonial sites during times of ceremony, come forward and do so.

“That campground was my grandfather’s land that they took and never compensated us. They can’t even show the papers that show how they got it,” Sisk said. “And now all we’re asking for in return is four days of peace and dignity for ceremony.”

“It’s not too much to ask for,” she said.


Chief’s letter to BIA Regional Director: “It’s time for the BIA to stop the human rights abuses against us.”

Chief Sisk at our War Dance for a Peaceful Coming of Age this May

Winnemem Wintu Chief and Spiritual Leader Caleen Sisk sent a letter to BIA Regional Director Amy Dutschke, urging her to intervene and close the ceremonial land to outsiders from outsiders during our Coming of Age ceremony June 30-July 3.

“By keeping the Winnemem Wintu, a tribe with a long history of government-to-government relations with the U.S., in your “unrecognized” status, you are by proxy authorizing human rights violations against our tribe and the disruption of our ceremony.”

Full letter is pasted below. The chief has fasted for 11 days and will continue to do so until Ms. Dutschke or the appropriate official meets with her.

Help us reach the BIA! Contact Amy Dutschke at Pacific Regional Office Bureau of Indian Affairs 2800 Cottage Way Sacramento, CA 95825

Phone: (916) 978-6000, (916) 978-6099


Amy Dutschke, Regional Director of the BIA in Sacramento

Be sure to cite AJR 39 - the California state resolution that urges the federal government to recognize the Winnemem!

Beedi Yalumina! Never give up!

The letter:

Amy Dutschke
Regional Director

Pacific Regional Office
Bureau of Indian Affairs
2800 Cottage Way
Sacramento, CA 95825                                             June 27, 2012

Dear Ms. Dutschke,

I am Caleen Sisk, Spiritual Leader and Chief of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe from Northern California.

Although we have met with Bureau representatives on several occasions in Washington, D.C., and both our state Senators in the past have sent inquiries to the Bureau regarding our tribal status, it was recommended that we send a formal request for meeting with you because of the urgency of our current situation.

I am writing to request a meeting with you to discuss our status as an “unrecognized” tribe.  I have been fasting for 9 days and will continue to do so until a meeting can be arranged.

We are a deeply traditional people who still practice our indigenous religion at numerous sacred sites along the McCloud River watershed.

For six years, we have struggled with the U.S. Forest Service to hold a peaceful Coming of Age ceremony at our Puberty Rock sacred site on the McCloud. in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest, and a large portion of the site is now a Forest Service campground. Because we are federally unrecognized, the Forest Service states that they can’t close the ceremonial site and river for us to protect the privacy of the ceremonies.

During previous ceremonies, we have endured heckling, racial harassment and even had a woman flash her naked breasts at us, while curiosity seekers and fishermen have disrupted the ceremony by walking through the grounds or near the young women’s traditional bark huts.

Now, after a long campaign, the Forest Service has finally issued a river closure for health and safety reasons, but they will not issue a mandatory closure of the ceremonial land because of our status with the BIA.  The Forest Service has informed us that the only way they would have the legal authority to close the campground and area to the general public is if we were on the list of federally recognized tribes.

We believe it’s time that the BIA step in and do what’s necessary to protect our upcoming ceremony this June 30-July 3, and all future ceremonies, from human rights violations. By keeping the Winnemem Wintu, a tribe with a long history of government-to-government relations with the U.S., in your “unrecognized” status, you are by proxy authorizing human rights violations against our tribe and the disruption of our ceremony.

I would like to request a meeting with you as soon as possible, hopefully before our ceremony begins Saturday, June 30, to discuss this matter and start the process to getting a technical correction to restore our recognized status so we can have a ceremony in peace and dignity. Because this is of the utmost importance to the survival of our culture and our religious rights, I will be fasting until this meeting takes place.

The Winnemem Wintu have been recognized on numerous occasions by the federal government: the 1851 unratified Cottonwood Treaty of which our former chief Norel Putus is a signer; the establishment of the temporary reservation at the Baird Fish Hatchery on our river; the 1941 Central Valley Project Indian Lands Acquisition Act, which authorized our removal and the removal of our burials from the McCloud River to clear the way for Shasta Lake; our chief’s 25-year-old eagle feather permit, which was recently revoked, and in so many other ways.

The Tejon Indian Tribe was recently discovered to have been omitted by accident by your agency. We believe the Winnemem Wintu have suffered the same fate, and we are eager to meet with you to help remedy this great injustice.


Caleen Sisk
Spiritual and Tribal Leader
Winnemem Wintu Tribe
14840 Bear Mountain Road
Redding, CA. 96003

Video: A Winnemem Mother’s Heartfelt Appeal for a River Closure

Marisa with her mom Jesse at our War Dance ceremony this past May.

Jessie Sisk is the mom of 16-year-old Marisa, who is training to be our next chief and who will have her Coming of Age ceremony later this month.
Listen to Jessie’s appeal to the Forest Service to protect her daughter from public interference and harassment during her sacred ceremony by closing 400 yards of the McCloud Arm of Shasta Lake.

“I should be thinking about getting everything ready, like her ceremonial skirt and attire, thinking good thoughts and not worrying about what might happen. . . I’m a little emotional because that’s my baby. It just makes me worry . . . that we can’t get the river closed for just four days.”

Let the Forest Service know that Marisa deserve peace and dignity for her Coming of Age ceremony.

Contact U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell:
Tom Tidwell, Forest Service Chief

Or sign up here to help close the river with other good-hearted volunteers!