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.”
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!
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.
We, the Winnemem Wintu Tribe, have been truly humbled by the outpouring of support for our efforts to secure a peaceful and uninterrupted Coming of Age ceremony this summer for 16-year-old Marisa.
We have received donations, offers to help and commitments to volunteer at our war dance from literally around the world and from members of many different faiths. We believe it shows just how important this fight is and how resonant it is to people from all walks of life.
We are expecting hundreds of people, tribal and non-tribal, to help at our War Dance.
We also believe that this is not a fight just for our tribe, but for all indigenous people around the world who are fighting for their rights as indigenous people.
Thanks to everyone for your support. We are a small tribe, but the hearts of our friends are very big.
You can still donate by going to paypal.
If you’re planning to come or want to help in other ways, visit our update page.
Two short documentaries about our Tribe’s journey to justice and salmon return will be screened at the Indian Education Film Festival, which is being held at the Shasta Learning Center (Old Nova), Friday – Sunday, Nov. 4-6.
We’ll screen the 15-minute promotional short for Will Doolittle‘s upcoming feature documentary Dancing Salmon Home about our journey to New Zealand to sing and dance for our salmon as well as our efforts to bring them home.
We’ll also show Will’s 22-minute film, Ceremony Comes Home, about our 2006 Coming of Age ceremony for Marine Sisk, which was disrupted by recreational boaters who motored through the McCloud River site and heckled us and our guests.
The films will be followed by a question and answer forum with tribal members. Tickets can be brought for $1 at the door, and we will also have our jewelry and our Sacred Salmon Cards for sale.
All proceeds will go towards our efforts to return the salmon, protect our sacred sites and our fight for justice.
Shasta Learning Center, 2200 Eureka Way , Redding , 96001
The Human Right to Water, which would guarantee all people affordable access to clean water and sanitation, is an important cause to the Winnemem, as we believe the right must also include spiritual access to water.
More than 20 Winnemem, coincidentally, were at the state capitol Wednesday where we successfully helped lobby for the unanimous passage on the Senate floor of Assembly Bill 1221, which would help federally unrecognized tribes improve water quality and sanitation in their communities.
“Water is sacred, water is Life for all,” commented Caleen Sisk-Franco, Chief and Spiritual Leader of the Winnemem. “Just as all need to breathe Air, so should be the waters be for all, not just those who market water and ruin the rest in poor planning.”
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.