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 (http://vimeo.com/39867112)
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.”
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: email@example.com. 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.
The following is a letter from a supporter in Oregon (she asked us to only use her initials) to the local Forest Service district urging the forest manager to enforce a mandatory river closure for our upcoming BałasChonas – Coming of Age Ceremony – for 16-year-old Marisa this summer.
Previous ceremonies have been marred by heckling and disruptions from recreational boaters on the McCloud Arm of Shasta Lake. To see video of the heckling and learn more about the ceremony, visit www.saveourceremony.com
For information on writing your own letter to Sharon Heywood, visit our how you can help page. #saveourceremony
Feel free to send us your letter to firstname.lastname@example.org or even make a video on youtube, and we will share it on our web site and on our facebook page!
March 20, 2012
USDA Forest Service
3644 Avtech Parkway
Redding, CA 96002
Dear Ms. Heywood:
I’ve watched and listened, danced and feasted at the two most recent Balas Chonas, (puberty), ceremonies of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe, held along the McCloud River at their traditional home and sacred sites. Welcomed guests, including even non-tribal people like myself, as well as US Forest Service employees, have joined them. Some of the USFS people were there as part of their work, others were there to witness and participate in the beauty of the ceremony.
It was shocking that some recreating public members refused to accept a “voluntary closure” of the ceremony area and purposely disrupted it with shouts and curses. In one such incident a woman lifted her shirt and showed her breasts. This is totally unacceptable, and particularly at a time that is so sacred.
The United States of America is now among the signers of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. Article 12 states: “Indigenous peoples have the right to manifest, practice…and teach their spiritual and religious traditions…and ceremonies; the right to maintain and protect and have access in privacy to their religious and cultural sites.” There are other relevant articles, but Article 12 should be enough reason for you to close the river/lake for the upcoming ceremony, June 30 – July 3, 2012.
In conversation with Winnemem Wintu Tribal Chief, Caleen Sisk, I have learned that she is being asked to respond to an application that would be appropriate for any recreating group or family. This seems an insult, like asking a Priest or Rabbi to apply each time they needed to hold a religious event in their sacred place.
And, as for the date of the event, there is only one traditional time that can work for the Balas Chonas ceremony; to expect use at another time would be no different than expecting Christmas services to be held on Halloween or Easter Sunday. I use these examples because I think that many people have a hard time understanding certain insults and indignities and racism if they can’t see it from their own cultural perspective. The safety and sacredness of this Balas Chonas event, in which the next tribal chief will be the initiate, is absolutely crucial.
Our government, in signing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, agreed to uphold that document. You, as Supervisor of the Shasta-Trinity Forest, have the responsibility to carry out the intent of it, unless it is more appropriate for Regional Director, Randy Moore, or Forest Ranger Kristy Cottini, to do so.
In hopes for a good outcome for the Ceremony, sincerely,
During Coonrod, we jump off the McCloud Lower Falls and follow the path of the salmon so the river remembers our sacred fish are supposed to be there.
Our annual Coonrod Ceremony will be held Aug. 11-14 at Coonrod Flat near the town of McCloud. We are ready for all our visitors including our dear friends from New Zealand: John and Gloria Wilkie, Pauline Reid, and Dirk Barr, manager of the Montrose Hatchery which helps our McCloud River salmon thrive over there in the Rakaia River.
They were instrumental in making our visit to New Zealand to sing to our salmon a successful one, and now they are continuing to support us in our quest to return our salmon home.
We have also have several native dance groups coming to dance and strengthen our prayers for the return of the salmon. We will also unveil an old time Fire and Water dance to help bring the Earth into balance.
If you’ve been invited, take I-5 north of Redding, exit left on Highway 89 to Pilgrim Creek Rd. Turn left on Pilgrim Creek Rd, go about 9 miles, and look for signs on the right to Ceremony grounds.
But simply as a matter of decency, the law ought to give federal officials the power to recognize bona-fide traditional ceremonies and make modest, occasional accommodations for them when appropriate. We’re not talking about closing down Lake Shasta here, but a 300-foot section of a lake that when full has 46 square miles available for boaters.
In the second “Hecklers need a rite of passage”, publisher Silas Lyons writes eloquently about his admiration of the ceremony and questions the integrity of the boaters who have intruded in past years.
These Winnemem Wintu girls have an opportunity to experience the rite of passage, and thousands of years of experience testifies to the truth that they’ll be better for it. So will their community. The tribe’s determination to try to have the ceremonies, and to do them right, is an inspiration.
We thank the Record-Searchlight for their coverage and support. We will need it as we continue to fight for a mandatory closure in 2012.
Filmmaker Will Doolittle has produced a short documentary about the Salmon Ceremony we held June 6 at the Glen Cove spiritual encampment. Natives and non-natives alike have occupied the shellmound burial ground site for nearly two months to protect it from being razed by the local recreation district.
Glen Cove is located on the banks of the Carquinez Strait, which links the Sacramento Delta to the San Francisco Bay. The ecologically rich estuary is a vital part of the salmon’s life cycle, and, tragically, thousands of endangered Chinook salmon and millions of splittail have been killed recently by the Delta Pumps, which divert vast amounts of water to industrial agriculture.
As Traditional Hereditary Chief and Spiritual Leader Caleen Sisk-Franco said:
“We’re on a journey to bring back our salmon, to sing to the salmon, to bring them home again, to clean the waters up and down the state, so they can continue to be here.”
Also, check out the site for Will’s 60-minute documentary, Dancing Salmon Home, about our journey to New Zealand, the first step in returning our salmon back to the McCloud. The documentary is currently in production.