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.

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Chief’s letter to BIA Regional Director: “It’s time for the BIA to stop the human rights abuses against us.”

Chief Sisk at our War Dance for a Peaceful Coming of Age this May

Winnemem Wintu Chief and Spiritual Leader Caleen Sisk sent a letter to BIA Regional Director Amy Dutschke, urging her to intervene and close the ceremonial land to outsiders from outsiders during our Coming of Age ceremony June 30-July 3.

“By keeping the Winnemem Wintu, a tribe with a long history of government-to-government relations with the U.S., in your “unrecognized” status, you are by proxy authorizing human rights violations against our tribe and the disruption of our ceremony.”

Full letter is pasted below. The chief has fasted for 11 days and will continue to do so until Ms. Dutschke or the appropriate official meets with her.

Help us reach the BIA! Contact Amy Dutschke at Pacific Regional Office Bureau of Indian Affairs 2800 Cottage Way Sacramento, CA 95825

Phone: (916) 978-6000, (916) 978-6099

E-mail: amy.dutschke@bia.gov

Amy Dutschke, Regional Director of the BIA in Sacramento

Be sure to cite AJR 39 – the California state resolution that urges the federal government to recognize the Winnemem!

Beedi Yalumina! Never give up!

The letter:

Amy Dutschke
Regional Director

Pacific Regional Office
Bureau of Indian Affairs
2800 Cottage Way
Sacramento, CA 95825                                             June 27, 2012

Dear Ms. Dutschke,

I am Caleen Sisk, Spiritual Leader and Chief of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe from Northern California.

Although we have met with Bureau representatives on several occasions in Washington, D.C., and both our state Senators in the past have sent inquiries to the Bureau regarding our tribal status, it was recommended that we send a formal request for meeting with you because of the urgency of our current situation.

I am writing to request a meeting with you to discuss our status as an “unrecognized” tribe.  I have been fasting for 9 days and will continue to do so until a meeting can be arranged.

We are a deeply traditional people who still practice our indigenous religion at numerous sacred sites along the McCloud River watershed.

For six years, we have struggled with the U.S. Forest Service to hold a peaceful Coming of Age ceremony at our Puberty Rock sacred site on the McCloud. in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest, and a large portion of the site is now a Forest Service campground. Because we are federally unrecognized, the Forest Service states that they can’t close the ceremonial site and river for us to protect the privacy of the ceremonies.

During previous ceremonies, we have endured heckling, racial harassment and even had a woman flash her naked breasts at us, while curiosity seekers and fishermen have disrupted the ceremony by walking through the grounds or near the young women’s traditional bark huts.

Now, after a long campaign, the Forest Service has finally issued a river closure for health and safety reasons, but they will not issue a mandatory closure of the ceremonial land because of our status with the BIA.  The Forest Service has informed us that the only way they would have the legal authority to close the campground and area to the general public is if we were on the list of federally recognized tribes.

We believe it’s time that the BIA step in and do what’s necessary to protect our upcoming ceremony this June 30-July 3, and all future ceremonies, from human rights violations. By keeping the Winnemem Wintu, a tribe with a long history of government-to-government relations with the U.S., in your “unrecognized” status, you are by proxy authorizing human rights violations against our tribe and the disruption of our ceremony.

I would like to request a meeting with you as soon as possible, hopefully before our ceremony begins Saturday, June 30, to discuss this matter and start the process to getting a technical correction to restore our recognized status so we can have a ceremony in peace and dignity. Because this is of the utmost importance to the survival of our culture and our religious rights, I will be fasting until this meeting takes place.

The Winnemem Wintu have been recognized on numerous occasions by the federal government: the 1851 unratified Cottonwood Treaty of which our former chief Norel Putus is a signer; the establishment of the temporary reservation at the Baird Fish Hatchery on our river; the 1941 Central Valley Project Indian Lands Acquisition Act, which authorized our removal and the removal of our burials from the McCloud River to clear the way for Shasta Lake; our chief’s 25-year-old eagle feather permit, which was recently revoked, and in so many other ways.

The Tejon Indian Tribe was recently discovered to have been omitted by accident by your agency. We believe the Winnemem Wintu have suffered the same fate, and we are eager to meet with you to help remedy this great injustice.

Respectfully,

Caleen Sisk
Spiritual and Tribal Leader
Winnemem Wintu Tribe
14840 Bear Mountain Road
Redding, CA. 96003