In 2006 Waimem Franco, a Winnemem Wintu young woman, embarked upon her puberty ceremony, the ceremony that marks the transition from child to woman in the Winnemem culture. While undergoing this sacred experience she was subjected to racist slurs, vulgar displays, and drunken behavior. You can watch video from her ceremony below.
The Winnemem now have three young women who are ready to experience their own puberty ceremony. One of those young women is the future spiritual leader of the Tribe. Recent Legislation in the Farm Bill should provide these three young women protection against such intrusive behavior. Unfortunately, thanks to the Tribe’s unrecognized status, these young women may be subjected to the same treatment.
Without the protections afforded federally recognized tribes the Winnemem are left to prevail upon the US Forest Service for assistance. The ceremony is just over one week away and the Tribe is still left in limbo not knowing whether their religious freedoms will be protected this time.
The Winnemem Wintu Tribe originates from the McCloud River, a tributary to the Sacramento River. They have practiced their culture and religion along the McCloud since time immemorial. There were more than 14,000 Winnemem before contact. Today 123 Winnemem continue their cultural lifeway and religious practice in the face of great odds against them.