Ceremony Is Not a Crime; Contribute to Chief Sisk’s Legal Defense

Winnemem Chief Faces $10,000 Fine/1 Year in Prison for Conducting Religious Ceremony

In our Northern California homeland, the Winnemem Wintu Tribe have held Coming of Age ceremonies on the McCloud River for their young women. These ceremonies have been marred in the past by harassment from boaters, which the U.S. Forest Service did little to stop.

After several months of protests and public support, Spiritual Leader Caleen Sisk finally secured a river closure to protect 16-year-old Marisa’s ceremony this July. Yet during the actual ceremony, the Forest Service law enforcement spent little time dealing with threats from the public, and more time intimidating the tribe and threatening to tow our boat, which we needed to transport elders across the river to be part of the ceremony. At the end of the ceremony, law enforcement officers entered the ceremony uninvited and issued two citations to Chief Sisk for using the boat in the closure zone, which could total $10,000 in fines or a year in prison. They used our closure against us.

Chief Sisk receives Marisa as a Winnemem woman after Marisa swam across the river during her ceremony.

The law enforcement harassment violated our religious freedom and our rights to a peaceful and private ceremony guaranteed by Article 12 of the U.N. Declaration Rights on Indigenous Peoples, which was endorsed by president Obama. It also was a violation of women’s indigenous rights.

This was nothing short of racial profiling and a retaliation. The Forest Service knew in advance of the tribe’s boat and had said it would be fine. There are also many examples of when exceptions to these closures are allowed. Please help keep our spiritual leader out of prison so she can continue to pass down teachings, pray and hold our ceremonies.


Nearly 35 years after the American Indian Religious Freedom Act was passed, we still have to face persecution and arrest for practicing our indigenous religion.

The Mending News documents the Forest Service harassment and citations.