Support the Winnemem Wintu Tribe and protect religious freedoms!!
Two ways you can help: send in a letter of support or volunteer at the ceremony! see below for more info
The Winnemem Wintu Tribe are fighting the US Forest Service for access to one of their sacred sites along the McCloud River, south of Mount Shasta. The Winnemem Wintu Tribe has been planning a coming of age ceremony at a campground along a section of the McCloud River. Known as the Puberty Ceremony, it honors the coming of age for young women from the Tribe and sets the Tribal foundation of existence.
While the Winnemem Wintu have prayed for millennia along the McCloud River, today the US Forest Service owns the campground and subcontracts with Shasta Recreation Company to operate the campground. The Tribe needs to use the campground privately for four days, but the government has effectively stopped the ceremony by refusing to waive campground fees and close a 200 yard section of the river.
The US Forest Service has reluctantly negotiated with the Winnemem Wintu to secure safe, private access to the ceremonial site. The Forest Service has supported the Shasta Recreation Company’s demand for $1000 out of the Tribe’s own pocket to cover costs for closing the campground and lost profits.
“Isn’t this country supposed to uphold religious freedoms?” asks Caleen Sisk-Franco, spiritual leader of the Tribe. “By refusing to close the campground and this section of the river, it means our whole ceremony will be in danger. It is our right to practice our religion without fear, in privacy, and they are basically denying us that right.”
HELP SECURE THE WINNEMEM WINTU’S RIGHT TO ACCESS THEIR SACRED SITES (scroll down for more info on this struggle)
Make your voice heard!
Send a letter supporting the Winnemem Wintu Tribe to the US Forest Service Supervisor Sharon Haywood - see attached sample letter and below addresses for the letter. We encourage you to make your own personal modifications to the letter to reflect your sentiments about this injustice.
Volunteer at the ceremony!
The Winnemem Wintu Tribe has sent out a call to any people who are interested in supporting their efforts. The Tribe will need people to help alert other campers and boaters to the ongoing ceremony and ask for individuals to respect the ceremony and chose another campground for the weekend. The campground, Kaibai, is located along the beautiful McCloud River and is a chance to provide crucial support on an issue that is about religious freedom and cultural survival for the Winnemem Wintu Tribe.
A group of volunteers will be camping at the Kaibai Campground during the weekend of the ceremony, July 8th – July 11th. We need people to outreach to local campers as well as boaters, so rafters please step forward!
CONTACT AMY VANDERWARKER, ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE COALITION FOR WATER, FOR INFORMATION ON VOLUNTEERING
We are asking that all letters be sent not only to the US Forest Service, but also to the following addresses:
Congressman Wally Herger
2268 RAYBURN HOUSE OFFICE BUILDING
Washington, DC 20515-0502
Senator Barbara Boxer
112 Hart Building
Washington DC 20510-0505
attn: Stacey Smith
Senator Dianne Feinstein
331 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
Acting Tribal Relations Program Manager, Office of Tribal Relations USDA Forest Service 1400 Independence Avenue, SW Washington, DC 20250
Tribal Relations Program Manager
USDA Forest Service Pacific Southwest Region
1323 Club Drive
Vallejo, CA 94592
More information on the struggle
Private profit trumps religious freedom
Winnmemem Wintu Tribe Fights US Forest Service
Most people cannot imagine being charged to enter their church or temple, but if the US Forest Service has its way, the Winnemem Wintu Tribe may have to do just that: pay in order to use their place of worship. The US Forest Service is supporting a private company’s right to profit from campground fees over the Tribe’s religious freedom right to pray at their traditional sacred site.
Who are the Winnemem Wintu?
The Winnemem Wintu Tribe are a traditional Tribe whose ancestral lands are located along the McCloud River, south of Mount Shasta. The vast majority of the Tribe’s sacred sites and lands are inaccessible – they were flooded after the construction of the Shasta Dam. “While our men were fighting for this country during World War II, we were displaced without due process or compensation in order to make way for Shasta Dam,” explains Caleen Sisk-Franco, spiritual head of the Tribe. “If you want to talk about the letter of the law, the US Bureau of Reclamation didn’t even fulfill the obligations set out in law when the dam was constructed. We are still waiting for the government to fulfill its promises to our people.”
What is the Puberty Ceremony?
The Winnemem Wintu have prayed for millennia along the McCloud River, which was once a sprawling village known as Kaibai. Today, tourists go there to picnic, camp and park their powerboats. The US 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. Fourteen year-old Waimem Sisk-Franco, the daughter of Winnemem leaders Caleen Sisk-Franco and Mark Franco, by tradition should undergo the ceremony this July. 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 fourteen year-old swims across the river and joins tribal dancers as a full-fledged woman.
The Winnemem Wintu Tribe has been planning a coming of age ceremony at a campground along a section of the McCloud River, which is owned by the US Forest Service. The Tribe needs to use the campground privately for four days, but the government has effectively stopped the ceremony by refusing to waive campground fees and close a 200 yard section of the river.
US Forest Service Refuses to Protect Winnemem Wintu’s Religious Freedoms
According to the Shasta Recreation Company, the Winnemem Wintu should pay $1000 dollars out of their own pockets so the company can make a profit off the Tribe’s use of the site. The US Forest Service has decided to uphold the contractual rights of the vendor over the Tribe’s religious right to access the sacred site.
“We are basically being told we have to pay to practice our religion, and we can’t afford that. We have enough trouble making payments on PG&E bills - we didn’t plan on payments or an entrance fee for our religious ceremonies. And no one should be able to make money off our ceremonies,” declared Mark Franco, political Headman of the Tribe.
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 might face this challenge during the Puberty Ceremony.
“Isn’t this country supposed to uphold religious freedoms?” asked Sisk-Franco. “By refusing to close the campground and this section of the river, it means our whole ceremony will be in danger. It is our right to practice our religion without fear, in privacy, and they are basically denying us that right.”
What does the US Forest Service say?
The US Forest Service insists that the letter of the law does not allow for exclusive use of ‘public lands.’ But according to allies who support the Tribe’s usage of the site, this isn’t about access to public land. “This is about access to a place of worship, like a church. And the government is trampling on the Tribe’s religious freedoms to ensure a company makes a profit,” said filmmaker Toby McLeod. “This is a disturbing step backwards.”
Throughout year-long negotiations with the US Forest Service, the Tribe has been shunted back and forth between the US Forest Service and the Shasta County Sheriff’s Department in their effort to create a safe passage across the river for the ceremonial swimmers. Both agencies say it is someone else’s responsibility to post signs or buoys. “One agency tells us one thing, another agency tells us another thing. And we have jumped through hoops to work with all of them for over a year now,” says Gary Mulcahy, governmental liaison for the Tribe. “At some point, we have to ask ourselves, does the government value us so little that they would put our Tribal members at risk?”
What is at stake for the Winnemem Wintu Tribe?
Even the impediments to the ceremony put the Tribe at risk, points out Sisk-Franco. “Maybe in all our meetings we have not made clear to the Forest Service what this ceremony means to the Tribe. This is a matter of survival – the Winnemem people need our ceremonies and our sacred places to live. The government is endangering our entire way of life by refusing to cooperate. All we are asking is for four days of campground use. That does not seem like too much to ask for the survival of an entire people.”
For more information, contact:
Mark Franco: (530) (530) 510-0944; firstname.lastname@example.org
Gary Mulcahy: (916) 214-8493; email@example.com
Amy Vanderwarker, (510) 504-2876; firstname.lastname@example.org
Environmental Justice Coalition for Water
654 13th Street
Oakland CA 94612