Tribe Seeks River Closure for Sacred Ceremony
Vanessa Houk, 07.07.2012 17:12
Underneath the craggy Two Sisters Mountain along the McCloud River in Shasta Lake, the ancient lands hold space for the Winnemem Wintu tribe (the middle water people) and their coming of age ceremony, but it’s uncertain if the US Forest Service will honor their claim. For more than six thousand years the Wintu people have called that area their home. As Chief Caleen Sisk explains, “Our beginning of life comes from Mt. Shasta, so all those stories up and down the river have meaning – from Yellow Jacket Mountain, to Fox Mountain, to the Sucker Pools, all these have stories that belong to the Winnemem people and songs that go with them.”
The Winnemem Wintu Tribe has asked the federal government to close a small area of the McCloud River so they can hold their ceremony in privacy. Part of the issue stems from the government’s denial of the authenticity of the tribe, but this is also about respect. In 2006 and 2010 the tribe held coming of age ceremonies and had difficulty with boaters who yelled obscenities at them, one woman who pulled her top down to expose her naked breasts as their boat passed the ceremony and others who disrupted their traditions with drunken revelry.
Up until 1985, the Winnemem Wintu was acknowledged by the US Government Department of the Interior as being a Native Tribe and they received federal health, education and housing benefits. At one point their family burials were moved and the federal government created an Indian Cemetery near Shasta Dam. The tribe is no longer permitted to bury their family members on land that holds many generations, land which their ancestors lived on for thousands of years, the land of their stories. In the mid-eighties their benefits abruptly ended and since then they have struggled as an unrecognized tribe. By not recognizing the Wintu Winneman as a tribe, the US Government is essentially disregarding their stories, customs and the many sacred sites along the McCloud River. Their ancient village of Kaibai is now a public campground.
In April, members of the Winnemem Wintu tribe met with Randy Moore of the US Forest Service. In a calm, clear voice Caleen Sisk plead for understanding. “To swim across the river is part of the tradition because we believe that we come into the world in the water and when our youngsters become women, they come back through the water,” she explained. The coming of age ceremony must begin on June 30 and is a four day ceremony. Sisk went on to discuss why that area of the river is sacred to her tribe, why the ceremony begins on that day, and said it has “the only puberty rock on the river when the full moon and tail end of the flowers are out and all these things are necessary”.
While it remains uncertain if the US Forest Service will grant the Winnemem Wintu’s private, closed off access to a small section of the river, it is clear that the tribe is moving forward. They put a call out for volunteer boaters who are willing to form a human blockade along the river in order to preserve their ceremony.
“We have to make our plans to be sure that our ceremony is held in peace and dignity,” Sisk said.
As we were going to press the Winnemem Wintu were told that the US Forest Service would honor the river closure, but as of June 29, they did not have a formal plan in place on how they will accomplish that. Chief Sisk is still calling on volunteers to come out and form a human blockade to ensure that the ceremony is protected. To find out the latest on what happened, please visit http://www.winnememwintu.us.
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Native American Bar Mitzvah
26.07.2012 - 02:34
Just clarifying what this is. Lewd behavior during a ceremony is unacceptable but closing the area is wrong since there are so many other areas to conduct the ceremony. Swimming across the river? That sounds like Christians baptizing themselves. We need to get past these superstitions.
"Puberty Rock"? Seriously?