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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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
ttidwell@fs.fed.us
202-205-8439

Or sign up here to help close the river with other good-hearted volunteers!

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