What is the Coming of Age Ceremony?
The Winnemem Wintu have prayed for millennia along the McCloud River, at what was once a sprawling village known as Kaibai. Today, tourists go there to picnic, camp and park their powerboats. The U.S. Forest Service subcontracts with Shasta Recreation Company to operate the campground.
The Puberty Ceremony honors the coming of age for young women from the Tribe and sets the Tribal foundation of existence. The ceremony is planned in correspondence with lunar and seasonal cycles and lasts four days. It consists of the young woman camping on one side of the river for three nights, learning from older women who visit her there, grinding herbs and medicines at a sacred rock, known as Puberty Rock. On the fourth day, when the moon is full, the celebrant swims across the river and joins tribal dancers as a full-fledged woman.
“In Peace and Dignity”
In 2006, the Winnemem held the first Bałas Chonas in 85 years. Unfortunately the ceremony was marred by interference from boaters who yelled obscenities and “flashed” the young celebrant. Our ceremonies establish the fabric of this tribe. Experiencing racism of this magnitude indelibly stains this fabric.
After suffering the indignity of racial taunts and the threat of injury from boaters who refused to honor the voluntary closure of the River, the Tribe determined to never place our young people in that situation again and began the arduous task of trying to secure closure of the ceremonial area. In 2010 the Tribe once again returned to the River to celebrate the coming of age of two more of our young women. The Winnemem Wintu Tribe will hold Bałas Chonas this summer, and once again we struggle to ensure that this ceremony will be held in peace and dignity.
The Winnemem Wintu face additional challenges due to the Shasta Dam. Puberty rock is under water half the year due to the fluctuating water levels of Shasta Reservoir, and it may be under water in July. The dam and management of the reservoir have prevented the Tribe from accessing many of their sacred sites, and they will likely face this challenge during the 2011 Bałas Chonas.
What Does the Tribe Need?
The Winnemem need a short section of the River, less than 300 yards, closed for the duration of their 4-day ceremony to protect them from intrusion by the uninvited public. Please join us in demanding the closure of the River to protect our religious freedom and the safety of our young people. Pass a tribal resolution, write a personal or organizational support letter, write an op-ed piece or make a donation to support this ceremony!
For More Information
Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, visit the Tribal webpage at: www.winnememwintu.us
or call us at the Tribal office – 530-275-2737