Native News Network Staff in Native Challenges. Discussion »
VALLEJO, CALIFORNIA On Monday some 60 tribal citizens of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe went to the US Forest Service Regional office demanding that the Shasta-Trinity National Forest provide a four-day mandatory closure of a quarter mile stretch of the McCloud River. At issue is protecting Indigenous Women from racial slurs and physical harm during a coming of age ceremony for teenage girls, which is planned for late June.
Winnemem Wintu Tribe Chief Sisk
“Since 1941, most of our ceremonial sites have been buried beneath the still waters of Lake Shasta,”
according to Chief Sisk.
“We ask that the Forest Service grant us this one small dignity by allowing our girls to enter womanhood in privacy at one of our last remaining traditional ceremonial sites.”
The Tribe's past two Coming of Age Ceremonies have been disrupted by racial slurs, alcohol use, and indecent exposure from passersby in motorboats who refused to honor a voluntary closure. These boaters also endanger the physical safety of young tribal members who swim across the river as part of the ceremony.
Boat Violating Voluntary Closure
The Tribe has requested for the past several years that the Forest Service close this stretch of river during their Coming of Age Ceremonies, which is held in an area accessible on Lake Shasta by boat. Although the Forest Service has issued "voluntary closures," which discourage most boaters from entering the area, several times during each ceremony groups of individuals powered into the ceremonial area, often with beers in hand and music blaring, as they verbally insulted members of the Tribe.
During a "Coming of Age" Ceremony in 2006, an individual "flashed"the ceremonial participants with naked breasts and yelled racist insults.
“If someone did this during Mass, they would be arrested.”
Says Sisk, who notes that there were no authorities present to cite the individual for public indecency. A mandatory closure was issued later at this same ceremony by the Shasta County Sheriff after a Forest Service District Ranger's kayak was rammed by a boat.
For the Winnemem Wintu Tribe, this is about respecting and protecting Native women while they pass on traditional ways to the next generations. According to Sisk,
“Like many traditional people, we hold our women in high regard. This beautiful ceremony is vital to our girls' transitioning into womanhood with confidence, grace and knowledge. We must hold this ceremony for our tribe to survive.”
posted April 17, 2012 9:20 am edt
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