“Don’t Drown Our Culture” – New Short Doc Demands Senators Boxer and Feinstein Address Winnemem Justice Issues Relating to the Shasta Dam Raise

The proposal to raise the Shasta Dam by 20.5 feet will mostly likely be deemed a “feasible alternative” by the Bureau of Reclamation, and it will almost permanently submerge an estimate 40-50 sacred sites integral to the Winnemem Wintu.

The US government is moving ahead with plans to raise Shasta Dam, in the service of wealthy water districts in California’s Central Valley. Our people, the Winnemem Wintu Tribe, were flooded out when the dam was built in 1945, without receiving the compensation promised by Senate Bill 1120. Now we are expected to sacrifice once again.

This project will require a vote in the US Congress. Please contact your Congressperson and Senators and urge them to oppose the plan to raise Shasta Dam.

If you are in California, please let Senators Feinstein and Boxer know that you are against this further injustice against our tribe.

More info and links can be found at www.shastadamraise.com.

What you can do:

Sign the Moveon petition.

Contact your congressional representatives and tell them to vote no on any proposal to raise the dam: http://www.usa.gov/Contact/Elected.shtml)

Winnemem’s Sacred Places Endangered by the Shasta Dam Raise Featured in News from Native California


mike prestonAn in-depth article based on months of enthnographic research about the Winnemem Wintu’s sacred places and culture that are threatened by the Shasta Dam raise proposal is featured in the latest Native from Native California issue now available.

Titled “Endangered Spaces: A Walk Through Sacred Places with the Winnemem Wintu”, the article was written by Stanford researcher, anthropologist and poet Lyla Johnston (Navajo) who spent several months with the Winnemem Wintu studying their connection to cultural sacred sites that are threatened by the proposal of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to raise the Shasta Dam 20.5 feet.

You can subscribe to the magazine online here: http://newsfromnativecalifornia.com/store/issues/volume-27-no-3-spring-2014/

And you can stop by their publishing house to get your own copy here:

1633 University Avenue

Berkeley, CA 94703

After conducting hours of interviews with Winnemem Wintu tribal members and elders and even more hours doing fieldwork using GIS technology, Johnston concluded in her 2013 thesis project that at least 38 sacred and historical sites of the Winnemem Wintu would be severely affected by the dam raise. Losing access to those sites, she concluded, would cause “an acute and irreversible disruption” to the tribe’s medicinal, spiritual and cultural worlds.

endangered spacesYou can read Johnston’s thesis – “Chonos Pom – Dance Grounds: Ethnic Endemism among the WinnememWintu and the Cultural Impacts of Raising Shasta Reservoir”.

Johnston said the article was a way to give a platform to the many Winnemem who lent their voices to her thesis through the interviews and to help the public understand through storytelling the heartbreaking impact the dam raise would have on the tribe and their way of life.

“Every culture, no matter how small, has the right to exist,” she said. She concluded in her report, “If we are to prevent the extinction of one of the few extant indigenous ethnicities of northern California, we must find an alternative to the proposed project and work towards institutional and legal protection of these cultural support zones on the McCloud River.”

Although the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is still finalizing its various reports on the impact and feasibility of the dam raise, Representative Jim Costa, of Fresno, has introduced a bill, HR 4125 co-signed by a number of California Democratic Congressmen, to raise the dam. Senator Diane Feinstein is also likely to introduce a bill to authorize the raising of the dam.

To support the Winnemem, you can sign our Moveon.org petition against the dam raise.

It is even more effective if you contact your Senators and Congresspeople directly (http://www.usa.gov/Contact/Elected.shtml), to remind them that a debt is still owed by the United States to the Winnemem Wintu  people, and ask them to vote NO on any proposal to raise Shasta Dam

Winnemem Seek Food Donations for Balas Chonas (Coming of Age Ceremony)

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

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

Dear supporters, friends and allies,

Our 2014 Balas Chonas (Coming of Age ceremony) for two young Winnemem ladies is only a few weeks away, and our Ceremony Cook Ricardo is hoping to receive some assistance to help fulfill the ceremony’s tradition of cooking meals with traditional foods for all participants and attendees.

He is especially hoping to receive local Shasta County donations. Everything helps, but he is especially hoping for:

  • fruit
  • salad fixings
  • food that can be brought in, not requiring refrigeration.

E-mail Ricardo at torresdow@aol.com if you would like to donate some food.

If you’d like to make a paypal donation to our non-profit Indian Cultural Organization to support the ceremony, click the button: [paypal-donation]

Here is a list of other foods we usually require for ceremony.

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.

spaghetti sauce,

salad dressings




Rice milk, lactaid milk,

almond milk.

Is Doug LaMalfa Your Congressman? Tell him “No!” to the Shasta Dam Raise

LaMalfa PosterIs your U.S. representative Doug LaMalfa? You can make a difference to support Winnemem Wintu cultural survival by telling him not to authorize the proposal to raise Shasta Dam by 18.5 feet.

You can call LaMalfa at (530) 223-5897 or email him by filling out this online form.

Here is a sample letter you can use.

We were flooded out, and not compensated, with the building of the dam in 1945, and now Westlands Water District and the Federal Government are pushing to do it again. This latest proposal would inundate or damage more than 40 sacred sites, including our Coming of Age ceremony place on the Winnemem Waywaqat (McCloud River).

Representative Jim Costa, of Fresno, has introduced a bill, co-signed by a number of California Democratic Congressmen, to raise the dam. No mention of the standing debt to our people.

If you live in another district, please contact your Senators and Congresspeople (http://www.usa.gov/Contact/Elected.shtml), in any state you’re in, to remind them that a debt is still owed by the United States to the Winnemem Wintu  people, and ask them to vote NO on any proposal to raise Shasta Dam.

Learn more about why the dam raise must be stopped at www.shastadamraise.com.

Save salmon and sacred sites: Speak out against the Shasta Dam raise by Sept. 30!

shastadamprotestTime is running out to submit a public comment to the Bureau of Reclamation telling them. The dam raise would destroy several miles of potential salmon spawning grounds on the McCloud and would submerge or damage nearly 40 sacred sites, including our Coming of Age ceremony site.

The dam is being raised to the cost of $1 billion to increase statewide water storage by less than one percent, and to send water to Southern California real estate developments in the desert and to Big Ag, which sell the water at a profit.

But you can make a difference! But you must act, the deadline is Sept. 30!

  • Sign this petition created by the Sacred Land Film Project. All the signatures will be sent to the Bureau on Sept. 30.
  • E-mail or contact the bureau directly.By mail: Send comments to Katrina Chow, Project Manager, US Bureau of Reclamation, Planning Division, 2800 Cottage Way, Sacramento, CA 95825-1893By e-mail: BOR-MPR-SLWRI@usbr.gov

    By phone: (916) 978-5067

    – See more at the Sacred Land Film Project.

  • Check out this sample letter and talking points to help you.

If you or your organization would like to work with us on standing against the dam and submitting comments, contact us at winnememwintutribe@gmail.com!

Beedi Yalumina! Never give up!

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 (ttidwell@fs.fed.us, 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!

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 (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.”

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


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!

Former Forest Service Attorney: “River closure is legally and morally justifiable action.”

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.

With respect,

Claire Hope Cummings

Thank You from the Winnemem!

Dear supporters,

Hee Chala Baskin! Thank you!

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. [paypal-donation]

If you’re planning to come or want to help in other ways, visit our update page.


Winnemem Wintu Tribe