Claire Cummings with our late Spiritual Leader Florence Jones
Note: This email was written by Claire Cummings, a former Forest Service attorney, to Regional Forester Randy Moore. She says Moore has the authority and legal ability to close 400 yards of the McCloud River for our Coming of Age ceremony this month. Previous ceremonies have been disrupted by recreational boaters who heckle and flash us.
Dear Mr. Moore
I wish to strongly suggest that not only is it within your power to briefly close the McCloud River for a few days for the Winnemem Wintu’s native ceremony, as respectfully requested, but it is also a morally and legally justifiable action.
In the early 1980′s I was an Office of General Counsel staff attorney in the U.S. Forest Service Region 5. In that capacity I advised the Shasta-Trinity National Forest and other forests on many policy questions. After four years at OGC, I began practicing environmental law and I had the opportunity of representing the traditional leader of the tribe, Florence Jones. I then worked with the forest to protect their ceremonial places and practices.
When the question of the ski resort on Panther Meadows came up, the forest was in clear violation of the National Historic Preservation Act. I was representing Florence Jones and in a meeting with the then Forest Supervisor, I said: “Look, you used to pay me for my advice, and it is just as valid now: you need to come into compliance with Section 106.” Eventually, the forest did the right thing and complied.
However, over all, the U.S. Forest Service does not do the right thing when it comes to respecting cultural diversity and cultural preservation. You can find the legal justification needed for a temporary closure, even if just on the basis of public safety, given the disreputable behavior of the public toward this ceremony in the past. So it is not a matter of if you can but if you will. Better yet, consider doing the right thing for the right reasons.
Is it a matter of not wanting to look like you are “giving in” to some interest group? In this case, using the lack of tribal status as an excuse. And yet, the federal government withdrew that status from this particular group of Wintu, as part of driving them off the river, thus depriving them of their legal rights.
Nevertheless, the rights of special interests abound in your forests, from Bible camps, to permits for summer homes, to recreational use from snowmobiles to cattle pasture. All these are allowed. But not the very uses to which these lands were put long before they became the property of the U.S. government.
These cultural practices are part of the rich tradition of this country and to discriminate against them, particularly when other religious and private, for profit, uses are permitted, is to be arbitrary, or even to continue the genocidal practices of the past.
This is not hyperbole. It is the real history of native people in this country.
Still, your obligation is framed by the law and the law is well tuned toward protecting private property and private interests. I understand that, but the law provides for the use of your discretion too.
In this case, your anthropologists (not archeologists) but someone trained in ethnography, can validate the ancient roots of this coming of age ceremony, the use of the particular place as essential and the timing as integral to the cultural practice.
Plus, we are talking about a small section of river – not its entire run, just several hundred yards before it ends, boats have to turn around anyway. And for a short period of time. The only inconvenience would be toward boaters who want to come a few hundred feet more where the river enters private property, another story of the theft of native land, the Bollibokka Club, a private fishing enclave that was given to the railroad barons and their heirs.
Claire with our current Spiritual Leader and Chief Caleen Sisk
So, what is at stake is a few hundred feet of recreational use of the river, for a few days, versus the continuation of an ancient ceremony that has taken place on that part of the river for thousands of years.
I just want to make a heartfelt request that you err on the side of respect for native culture.
If you want me to find you the legal basis for the closure, I will do so, but really, you are paying OGC attorneys to do that already.
Claire Hope Cummings
P R E S S R E L E A S E
Winnemem Wintu Tribe
For Immediate Release: May 4, 2012
For more information:
Caleen Sisk, Spiritual Leader and Tribal Chief: 530-710-4817
James Ward, media relations: 530-638-5580
WinnememWintu Tribe needs 4-day closure of 400-yard section of McCloud River to Perform Girls’ Traditional Coming of Age Ceremony
Please download and share via facebook! Save our ceremony!
–U.S. Forest Service Region 5 Forester Randy Moore has missed his May 1 deadline to respond to the Winnemem Wintu’s request for a mandatory river closure to protect their Coming of Age ceremony this summer. The tribe has had not received any intention of Mr. Moore to respond in a timely fashion, and because the government’s legal process is clearly a dead end, the Winnemem will now hold a H’up Chonas, or War Dance, in the near future to defend their cultural rites in a traditional way.
Previous Coming of Age ceremonies have been disrupted by drunken recreational boaters motoring through the site and heckling the tribe with racial slurs.
“I am saddened that Moore does not have the courage to do what’s right,” Sisk said. “We lost all our land when they built Shasta Dam, and now all we want is four days of peace and dignity for our ceremony, which is vital to the social fabric of our tribe. A peaceful ceremony is our right, and we are not accepting anything short of that.”
The tribe is placing a call to action. During the War Dance, the tribe, hundreds of tribal members from around the west coast and allies will gather in solidarity to ensure their sacred ceremony will proceed unhindered as it has for thousands of years before the Forest Service existed. For more information, contact the tribe at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Details will be on the Winnemem Wintu web site soon.
The tribe first brought back the H’up Chonas, or War Dance, in 2004 to protest the proposal to raise Shasta Dam, which would flood many important sacred sites, including the site of the Coming of Age ceremonies. The War Dance signifies a commitment to a spiritual and physical resistance to threats to the tribe’s culture. It means the Winnemem are willing to die to protect their tribal way of life.
Frustrated by being ignored by Shasta-Trinity Forest officials for the past six years, members of the Tribe challenged Mr. Moore at his office in Vallejo, CA, April 16,to ask him directly for the closure for the young women’s ceremony.
Citing the U.N. Declaration of Rights of Indigenous Peoples recently signed by President Obama, Chief Sisk and several women of the tribe sought to convince Mr. Moore that this is an issue of human rights and women’s rights. The Forest Service’s position has been that they lack the authority to grant the request for the traditional tribe, though sources within the agency have verified that Mr. Moore has the authority to close the stretch of river necessary for the ceremony.
In previous ceremonies, the Forest Service attempted a“voluntary” closure of the river, which has led to the tribe being heckled and abused by antagonistic recreational boaters who are often drunk and have shouted racial slurs like “Fat Indians!”.
At the April 16 event, Chief Sisk reported to the press that a voluntary closure meansthat, “the 10 percent who mean harm, disrespect and possible violence barge through the ceremony by motor boat and prove that a voluntary closure does not work. “
Though the Winnemem are federally unrecognized due to a bureaucratic error, the Forest Service has previously signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the tribe, which states they are the indigenous people from the McCloud River.
Moore said the Forest Service could close the river for a federally recognized tribe on the Winnemem’s behalf. Not only is this an insult to the Winnemem, but it is exceedingly dangerous. It could set a legal precedent that another tribe has authority over the site and the ceremony.
“What if the Mormons had to ask the Catholic Church for permission to have a ceremony?” Sisk asked. “What if one day the Catholics said no? Then what do you do?”
The north end of the ceremony site is private land not accessible to boaters. The river closure would not stop a thoroughfare, but simply cut off a 400-yard corner of the 30,000 square-acre Shasta Lake.
At previous ceremonies, the Forest Service’s law enforcement officers have implemented a mandatory closure of the river on the last day of the ceremony when the young women swim across to symbolize their transition to womanhood. They have cited safety reasons behind the closure.
Learn more about the Winnemem Wintu at http://www.winnememwintu.us/
Learn more about the ceremony at www.saveourceremony.com.
Download Video of motorboats speeding past ceremony and flashing the participants at: http://vimeo.com/39867112
Footage of April 16, 2012 protest at Forest Service Region 5 Headquarters in Vallejo: http://youtu.be/oglCy–o7oY
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