Levi Rickert, editor-in-chief in Native Challenges. Discussion »
REDDING, CALIFORNIA Winnemem Wintu Chief Caleen Sisk and her nephew Arron Sisk have been fasting for the past nine days and plan to continue until the Bureau of Indian Affairs intervenes to fully protect the site of this week's Coming of Age ceremony from abuse and harassment from the general public.
Chief Caleen Sisk (r) at Last Month's War Dance
with Armed US Forest Service Officers
After six years of ignoring the tribe's requests that they protect their young women from harassment, the Forest Service finally did the right thing and announced June 21 that they would enforce a mandatory river closure for the ceremony June 30 - July 3 for 16 year old Marisa Sisk, who is training to be the next chief.
While this was a significant step in acknowledging the tribe's rights as Indigenous People, Randy Moore, Regional Forester, said they can't keep the general public from wandering through the ceremonial site because the tribe is not federally recognized. If the tribe was federally recognized, then federal law would give the Forest Service the authority to close the area for the ceremony. But, as it stands now, their hands are tied because of the BIA's failure to include the tribe on their list.
“The BIA has been basically authorizing this abuse of our ceremony by relegating us to their 'unrecognized' status,”
“We are fasting and praying because they need to come to the table and fix their mistake.”
The Coming of Age ceremonies for the tribe's young women are held at a traditional village site in the Shasta Trinity National Forest, where previous ceremonies have been marred by harassment from boaters, fisherman and other members of the recreating public who have yelled racial slurs at the tribe and even flashed them with naked breasts.
“The Winnemem understand the Forest Service officials are at the end of their legal authority, but they still have a responsibility under the American Indian Religious Freedom Act to do everything they can to protect our ceremony from abuse,”
“They need to help bring the BIA to the table,”
“We are the indigenous people from here. Recognized or not, we have the right to hold our ceremony in privacy.”
To ensure the safety and sanctity of this ceremony, and to give the Forest Service the authority to close off the area, the Winnemem are demanding that the BIA perform a technical correction and add the Winnemem to the list of federally recognized tribes.
Many Winnemem tribal members already have BIA certified paperwork that verifies they are Indian, and they were previously recognized until the 1980s when a bureaucratic error left them off the BIA's list.
“I am sure some will say, see I told you, that's what this was all about in the first place, federal recognition. But they would be wrong,”
said Gary Hayward Slaughter, Winnemem tribal member,
“It is still about having a ceremony in peace and dignity.”
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posted June 27, 2012 12:30 am edt