Call for solidarity in defense of Winnemem Wintu Coming of Age Ceremony
The Winnemem Wintu are a salmon and middle water people living on what is left of their ancestral lands from Mt. Shasta down the McCloud River watershed in California. They have issued a request for solidarity in defense of a sacred Coming of Age Ceremony for young Winnemem Wintu women. This Ceremony is traditionally held on a 400-yard section of the McCloud, and the Tribe has called for closure of this section during the four-day ceremony from June 29th-July 3rd.
Of course, the Forest Service has denied the Tribe’s demand for a closure of the area during a popular tourist weekend. Last year the agency imposed a voluntary closure in which the Winnemem Wintu could request that boaters stay out of the area, but could not force them. In past years the Ceremony has been interrupted by drunken boaters, a constant stream of loud engines, racial slurs, and even indecent exposure by a woman in a passing boat. The Ceremony includes an important element in which the young women swim across the river. With the constant boat traffic, this action puts participants in direct physical danger.
“We have been backed into a corner with no other choice. We should be preparing for Marisa [Sisk]’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.”
The Winnemem Wintu are requesting help to blockade the river and prevent intrusive disruptions of this important Ceremony. Experienced kayakers are especially needed. Help is also need to publicize these violations through phone, networking, media, social media, and letters of protest sent to the regional Forest Service office. (See contact info below for the office’s address)
For anyone considering participation in this blockade, there are some important things to think about. First and foremost, this is an act of solidarity. This is not an invitation to a sacred ceremony or a protest. Individuals interested in participating should be fully self-sufficient with provisions, tents, and other camping equipment.
A supporter of DGR who works in solidarity with Indigenous struggles offers some insight on Indigenous solidarity in general:
“Ask the Winnemem Wintu and trusted supporters on-site where help from non-Natives is appropriate and needed.
From personal experience as a non-Native doing support work, I would only bring other non-Natives if they are known to be respectful of boundaries, and not doing this work as a way to steal Indigenous Knowledge or gain access to ceremony. Undoubtedly some of those sorts will turn up, and I think it’s our job as non-native allies to run interference and keep any disruption, even “well-intentioned” disruption, away from the ceremonies.
I know some AIMsters who blockaded the river for the last ceremony. They were not there to participate in ceremony, but to do support. So they set up their own camp and organized patrols on the water and shores. They kept a boundary around any ceremonial activity, they worked in the kitchens, they made sure the Winnemem Wintu folks had the space to do their thing. From what I saw from my friends’ photos, there’s a campground there and it makes sense to have a series of interconnected camps like affinity groups.
This type of protection of ceremony is similar to what some of my male friends have done to protect women’s ceremonies – they have stood just out of earshot (though a yell could reach them), turned their backs so they don’t witness anything private, and kept other men from coming into the women’s space.”
Those interested in protecting this Ceremony please contact: winnememwintutribe[at]gmail[dot]com
To send letters or make phone calls in protest of the Forest Service’s inaction:
Email Attorney General Kamala Harris: firstname.lastname@example.org
Email Assistant AG Kristian Whitten: email@example.com (civil rights violations)
Governor’s twitter: @JerryBrownGov
Email Randy Moore, Regional Forest Director: firstname.lastname@example.org
Snail Mail: 1323 Club Drive, Vallejo, CA 94592
The Tribe requests that messages are respectful and peaceful
Media inquiries, please contact:
Jeanne France, Media Relations: 530-472-1050
Michael Preston, Media Relations: 510-926-1513