Winnemem Issues and the Journey to Justice
The Winnemem Wintu Tribe is an historic tribe of California natives. Represented in the 1851 Treaty at Cottonwood Creek, the Winnemem along with other Wintu bands ceded a vast amount of territory from Sacramento to near the Oregon border to the United States, in exchange for a 25 square mile reservation along the Sacramento River.
History shows that the California legislature, much in the same way that they deal with the Winnemem today, pushed for the President of the United States, Millard Fillmore not to ratify any of the 18 treaties government agents signed with California tribes “in peace and friendship.” The fact that the legislature had completed this duplicitous act remained sealed from the American public for over 50 years, until the treaties were discovered in the early 1900’s.
This legacy of duplicity continues today for the Winnemem as the United States government, the one with which we signed a treaty, now denies that the Winnemem are a tribe at all. This action has caused the tribe an almost irreparable loss to our cultural landscape and tribal sites and now jeopardizes our healthcare, the education of our youth, our basic housing needs and the continuation of our lifeway.
We now engage the United States on several fronts: the protection of our land, the protection of our religious freedom, the restoration of our tribal status and the continued protection of the waters of the McCloud River.
In protecting our land, the Winnemem have engaged in addressing the Bureau of Land Management, the United States Forest Service and the Bureau of Reclamation in an attempt to persuade them to consult with the tribe as a government entity when working on their projects such as permits for mining, water bottling, dams and timber/forest practices. We feel that these agencies are making decision on properties they do not in fact own and for which the tribe still holds title. Thus far, these departments have failed to prove the tribe wrong in our assertion.
In the protection of our religious freedom the tribe is fighting for the protection of our cultural sacred sites and yet undisturbed graveyards. Since the BIA and other agencies do not see us as a “tribe,” our cultural landscape is at their mercy. We have seen burials disturbed, remains sent to colleges for study without our consent, and the remaining ceremonial sites we continue to use today in danger of flooding by the proposed Shasta Dam and its appurtenant work.
We are attempting to have the United States government prove the loss of our tribal status. To this end, we hold steadfast in our belief that the Office of Federal Acknowledgment is not the place for us to resolve this issue. We have never received or been advised that our tribal status was terminated, we have not signed paperwork stating that we wished to cease being a tribe, the Congress has not terminated our status and the president of the United States has not issued an executive order stating that we were not a tribe. Instead, we see the government issuing a statute in Dec 1941 called the Central Valley Project- Indian Land Acquisition act in which the people disturbed by the construction of Shasta Dam would be granted like land to live on, funds to repair lost infrastructure, and a cemetery held in trust for the tribe. We are still waiting for this act to be honored; again, we gave up over 4800 acres of allotment land and received nothing.
Finally, we fight for the protection of the McCloud River watershed. We do this by opposing the privatization of water by companies like Coke and Nestlé and their sub-agents, who seem eager to remove the pristine waters from our sacred springs and those that supply the small towns in the north state to resell at a profit to people around the world. Water is a basic human need not a commodity for sale. We fight the large agribusiness combines who want the water for their farms, only to receive subsidies for not growing crops and then reselling their water shares to housing developers and metropolitan water districts at a premium: all on the back of the California citizen. We see the misuse of the water in the name of saving fish:
- save the fall run salmon at the expense of the spring, summer and winter runs;
- flushing the salt water from the delta with fresh water to save the delta smelt that survives in the salty water of the delta;
- flushing the salts and chemicals from wasted lands in the central valley (selenium and other heavy metals) so that it pollutes other areas and provides more land to grow watermelons in the desert.
These are the issues we, a small, unrecognized tribe face and are fighting. We declared war against the United States and its department of destruction on the landing at Shasta Dam in September 2004. We continue to wage that war to this day. As our late tribal leader said, “people will have to wake up one day and see the good…they all cannot just be dumb and die.”