From Oregon with Love for Ceremony: A Letter to the Forest Service

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 winnememwintutribe@gmail.com 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,

R.K. – Winnemem Support Group of Oregon

Don’t forget! Winnemem Films Screening this Weekend in Redding

Just a reminder that this weekend we’ll be screening the 15-minute promotional short for Will Doolittle’s upcoming feature documentary Dancing Salmon Home and Will’s 22-minute film, Ceremony Comes Home, about our 2006 Coming of Age ceremony.

The films be will shown as part of the Indian Education Film Festival Friday through Saturday at the Shasta Learning Center (show times and a flyer are below.)

The films will be followed by a question and answer forum with tribal members. A recommended donation of $1 can be provided 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.

Location:

Shasta Learning Center, 2200 Eureka Way , Redding , 96001

Screening Schedule:

Friday, Nov. 4th
5:00 p.m. – Dancing Salmon Home
5:30 p.m. – Ceremony Comes Home

Saturday, Nov. 5th
5:00 p.m. – Dancing Salmon Home
5:30p.m. – Ceremony Comes Home
Sunday, Nov. 6th
11 a.m. – Dancing Salmon Home
11:30 a.m.- Ceremony Comes Home

Winnemem Film Screenings in Redding Nov. 4-6

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.

Location:

Shasta Learning Center, 2200 Eureka Way , Redding , 96001

Screening Schedule:

Friday, Nov. 4th
5:00 p.m. – Dancing Salmon Home
5:30 p.m. – Ceremony Comes Home

Saturday, Nov. 5th
5:00 p.m. – Dancing Salmon Home
5:30p.m. – Ceremony Comes Home
Sunday, Nov. 6th
11 a.m. – Dancing Salmon Home
11:30 a.m.- Ceremony Comes Home

Record-Searchlight Supports Bałas Chonas

Traditional Hereditary Chief and Spiritual Leader Caleen Sisk-Franco arrives on the other side of river, ready to receive the girls when they swim across.

After printing a story about the postponement of our Bałas Chonas (Coming of Age Ceremony) because of the threat of public interference, the Record-Searchlight published two editorials supporting our fight to hold the ceremony in peace.

The first by the editorial board “Recognized or not, tribe’s rite deserves respect from the law” argues that if the law doesn’t allow the Winnemem to close the river, then the law must change.

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.