2012-05-21 "Winnemem Wintu Tribe to Hold War Dance May 24-27 to Convince U.S. Forest Service to Protect Coming of Age Ceremony from Disruptions and Heckling"
For more information:
Caleen Sisk, Spiritual Leader and Tribal Chief: 530-710-4817
Michael Preston: 510-926-1513
Jeanne France: 530-472-1050
Winnemem Wintu Tribe needs 4-day closure of 400-yard section of McCloud
River to Perform Girls’ Traditional Coming of Age Ceremony
Redding, CA – The Winnemem Wintu Tribe will hold a four-day War Dance
(H’up Chonas in Winnemem) May 24-27 at the McCloud River site where they
hold their Coming of Age ceremonies.
The War Dance signifies the tribe’s spiritual commitment to defend at
all costs the ceremony from heckling, flashing and violating disruptions
by recreational boaters that have occurred in previous years.
“We have been backed into a corner with no other choice. We should be
preparing for Marisa’s ceremony, setting down prayers, making regalia,
getting the dance grounds ready, making sure it happens in a good way,”
said Caleen Sisk, spiritual leader and chief. “But instead we have to
fight simply to protect our young women from drunken harassment.”
More than 400 volunteers from throughout the country, native and
non-native, are expected to converge upon the sacred sites to help the
tribe close the river and protect the War Dance from interference by
The ceremony will begin Thursday with the light of the sacred fire and
an opening dance. On Friday and Saturday, the Tribe and volunteers will
blockade a 400-yard stretch of the river. These will be the best days
for media to attend.
“We hope the blockade will let the Forest Service know that boats don’t
belong in ceremony and that we will do it ourselves if they won’t take
the appropriate measures to protect our young women’s ceremonies,” said
The tribe has contacted the U.S. Forest Service to arrange a discussion
with officials to let them know what to expect and to ensure that
everyone will be safe and have their rights respected. The tribe will
have lawyers, legal observers, videographers, and the media present at
all times during the War Dance and other activities.
The Tribe hopes the War Dance will convince the U.S. Forest Service to
implement a mandatory river closure for 16-year-old Marisa Sisk’s Coming
of Age ceremony, a traditional rite that is vital to the tribe’s social
The ceremony lasts four days, and takes place at the McCloud Bridge
campground, which is within the Shasta-Trinity National Forest. The site
was once a Winnemem village, Kaibai, and is home to numerous sacred
sites vital to the ceremony.
At the tribe’s ceremonies in 2006 and 2010, the Forest Service enforced
only a voluntary river closure, which led to drunken recreational
boaters heckling the young Winnemem women and other tribal members with
shouts of “It’s our river too, dude!” or “Fat Indians.”
One woman flashed her naked breasts at the Tribe, and another boater
dumped cremated ashes into the river shortly before a ceremonial swim.
For six years, the tribe has unsuccessfully worked with Shasta-Trinity
Forest officials to secure a mandatory closure of the 400 yards river
necessary for the ceremony. It is not a thoroughfare. Access for the
general public dead-ends at the north end of the site, which is private
On April 16, the Winnemem Wintu held a direct action event at the
Vallejo office of Regional Forester Randy Moore, asking him to take
action and close the river using his professional discretion. The tribe
gave Moore a May 1 deadline to respond to their request, but he has
never contacted the tribe.
U.S. Forest Service officials say that laws that would allow for a
mandatory river closure for American Indian ceremonies – the 2008 Farm
Bill and the American Indian Religious Freedom Act – do not apply to the
Winnemem because they are not federally recognized.
The Winnemem were federally recognized up until the 1980s when they
lost recognition due to Bureau of Indian Affairs clerical error.
Today, they are state recognized. The California Native American
Heritage Commission has asserted that the Winnemem Wintu should be
federally recognized. The California State Assembly also passed Assembly
Join Resolution 39, which urges Congress to restore the Winnemem’s
The Winnemem Wintu are a traditional tribe of 125 who still practices
their ceremonies and traditional healings within our ancestral territory
from Mt. Shasta down the McCloud River watershed. When the Shasta Dam
was constructed during World War II, it flooded their home and blocked
the salmon runs. It also flooded all the other Puberty Rocks that could
be used for Coming of Age ceremonies.
For directions to the War Dance, a cultural guide for the ceremony and more info, visit [http://www.saveourceremony.com/wardance].
Learn more about the Winnemem Wintu at [http://www.winnememwintu.us]
Learn more about the ceremony at [http://www.saveourceremony.com].
Download Video of motorboats speeding past ceremony and flashing the participants at: [http://vimeo.com/39867112]
Footage of April 16, 2012 protest at Forest Service Region 5 Headquarters in Vallejo: [http://youtu.be/oglCy--o7oY]
Photo of Caleen Sisk (speaking) and members of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe at a protest at the U.S. Forest Service office in Vallejo on April 16 by Dan Bacher.