Because of inadequate protection from intruding recreational boaters, the Winnemem Wintu have postponed our Bałas Chonas (Coming of Age Ceremony) for Marisa Sisk until next year, Traditional Hereditary Chief and Spiritual Leader Caleen Sisk-Franco announced this week.
The site of the ceremony is a traditional Winnemem village site on the McCloud Arm of Shasta Lake in Northern California. It’s now managed by the U.S. Forest Service as a campground, and in previous ceremonies we’ve suffered harassment and intrusion from boats and fishermen.
For more than five years, we’ve asked the Forest Service to enforce a mandatory river closure for the ceremony’s four days in order to give us the peace and privacy we need for a good ceremony.
They have continually refused to honor this request, even though it is within their power to close the river.
Because Marisa is the young woman training to be the next leader, our Chief decided the risk was too great and the indignity of holding a ceremony without complete privacy could no longer be tolerated.
The Winnemem plan to regroup and spend the next year campaigning to secure a river closure for the ceremony next July. The tribe also plans to investigate filing a complaint through the United Nation’s Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.
The 2008 Farm Bill provides Forest Service with the ability to close public lands temporarily for religious ceremonies for “federally recognized” tribes. However, these rights are not provided to unrecognized tribes like the Winnemem, who have a well-documented history, living culture and are as indigenous as any recognized tribe. We believe this is a form of unjustifiable discrimination that severely inhibits our ability to maintain our culture and lifeways.
Finally a message of thanks from Caleen Sisk-Franco:
Thank you to all who have put out so much work on this ceremony’s preparation, food, wood, volunteer kayakers, and the many others who are helping in the organizing the safety, security, and all the dancers and singers who were ready to share and support this most needed ceremony. I appreciate all of your work and know that you are blessed for it.
We are heartbroken the ceremony could not be held as it was meant to be. But in our language there is saying – Beedi Yalumina! Winnemem Wintu! – “Never give up, Winnemem Wintu!”
And we shall never give up.