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

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 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

This Week in Winnemem: Salmon, Unrecognized Tribes and Human Right to Water

This H'up Chonas dance photograph was feature in the Christian Science Monitor's web site.

The Winnemem Wintu have received a lot of news coverage in recent weeks, so here is a quick round-up in case you missed it.

The Human Right to Water, which would guarantee all people affordable access to clean water and sanitation, is an important cause to the Winnemem, as we believe the right must also include spiritual access to water.

More than 20 Winnemem, coincidentally, were at the state capitol Wednesday where we successfully helped lobby for the unanimous passage on the Senate floor of Assembly Bill 1221, which would help federally unrecognized tribes improve water quality and sanitation in their communities.

“Water is sacred, water is Life for all,” commented Caleen Sisk-Franco, Chief and Spiritual Leader of the Winnemem. “Just as all need to breathe Air, so should be the waters be for all, not just those who market water and ruin the rest in poor planning.”

Upcoming Stories:

Be sure to check them out!

“This estuary is a magical place” – The Glen Cove Salmon Ceremony Film

Filmmaker Will Doolittle has produced a short documentary about the Salmon Ceremony we held June 6 at the Glen Cove spiritual encampment. Natives and non-natives alike have occupied the shellmound burial ground site for nearly two months to protect it from being razed by the local recreation district.

Glen Cove is located on the banks of the Carquinez Strait, which links the Sacramento Delta to the San Francisco Bay. The ecologically rich estuary is a vital part of the salmon’s life cycle, and, tragically, thousands of endangered Chinook salmon and millions of splittail have been killed recently by the Delta Pumps, which divert vast amounts of water to industrial agriculture.

For our Tribe’s plan to return our salmon to the McCloud River (Winnemem Waywakit) to be successful, the salmon must be able to survive the Delta.

As Traditional Hereditary Chief and Spiritual Leader Caleen Sisk-Franco said:

“We’re on a journey to bring back our salmon, to sing to the salmon, to bring them home again, to clean the waters up and down the state, so they can continue to be here.”

Also, check out the site for Will’s 60-minute documentary, Dancing Salmon Home, about our journey to New Zealand, the first step in returning our salmon back to the McCloud. The documentary is currently in production.