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
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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