It's been a long and twisted road to Justice. I am excited that this year, restoration of tribal status seems closer than ever. The California State Legislature just passed a joint resolution, August, 2008, supporting restoration of the Winnemem Wintu. Now it must go to the federal level for that "act of Congress" that the BIA informed the Winnemem they would need to be restored and for their own clerical oooops to be corrected. Back in the 90's Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell tried to introduce a bill. It didn't make it out to the floor before he retired. During the passage of time, each precious Winnemem elder had passed on, and the responsibility has fallen into the next generation's hands -- the last generation to enjoy the ability to go to college as members of a recognized tribe, the generation of young adults who saw their elders turned away from clinics because they suddenly lost their tribal status. During the passage of time, a new leader succeeded Florence Jones, leader for over eighty years. Caleen Sisk Franco
Florence Jones had brought the ceremonies above ground with the first Freedom of Religion Act. Her ceremonies were known all over the country by the time I met her. Hundreds of people came for blessings, for balance, to learn, for doctoring. The tribe, although they had lost control of the sacred lands, had a relationship and understanding since that first Freedom of Religion Act to continue the ceremonies as they have been from the beginning of time. Caleen was being trained from a young age through the time she was a college student earning a degree in education, on through her time, married to Mark Franco, mother to both Michael Preston and she and Mark, parents of Marin.
Before Florence Jones passed on, Caleen and her husband and children left their homes in the city and moved to the ranch to take care of Florence and her elderly daughter, the ranch, and to continue Florence Jone's legacy of taking care of the Winnemem spiritual way of life. It's not an easy life on the ranch. It's not an easy life to succeed Florence Jones, Indian Doctor, Ceremonial leader of eighty years.
The newly appointed Forest Service head of the McCloud River region is an example of what is difficult about succeeding a leader who had been the leader for over 80 years. The Forest Service head decided to interpret the relationship between the Winnemem and the Forest as only with Florence Jones, and with her death, all agreements were null and void with the tribe. I suppose as a way to hammer that point in, she changed the lock on the gate to the doctoring place, and cut down the sacred Manzanitas going up to the ceremonial ground. It is an uphill battle for the successor as Winnemem Chief to get the recognition and respect as leader from a government when that government hasn't remedied so many errors of the past with the Winnemem in the first place. However, as the leader, Caleen just keeps going on. She prayed for the trees. She spoke to officials. She continued the ceremony at the doctoring place. and one thing more. She also brought back the "coming of age" ceremony because her daughter had just come of age. She is not daunted. She just stays the course. The new Forest Head responded to the request to the "coming of age ceremony" with NO!
A year passed and Caleen and Mark's young daughter was another year older. Working both in the political arena and praying, with help from the new head's supervisors, the decision was finally successfully turned around and the ceremony was to be allowed. However, the new forest head refused to close down the river for the four days of the ceremony. Jet boats, house boats, alcohol, a campground full of campers, all of that would be allowed to go on while a tribe brought a young woman into her womanhood -- she on one side of the river, praying, listening to the elder women, hiking to learn the plants, to find her own cooking rock, and the people on the other side, praying, singing, preparing the feast, getting ready for the celebration to welcome her on the fourth day, when she and her assistants swam across the river to join the circle. Is that a do-able scenerio? Alcohol and prayers? Youth swimming across the river and jet boats? Clearly the ceremony and the "recreational use" of the river were not a match.
We started a campaign in Oregon, and other supporters also applied pressure that the ceremony would go on as it should and safely. The supervisor overruled the forest head and the allowed the ceremony to proceed on the McCloud, but ruled that the government could only institute a voluntary closure for the ceremony. A video has been made of that historic "coming of age" ceremony called, "The Ceremony Comes Home" and it shows that a voluntary closure does not work. It meant the 10 percent who refused to honor the closure came to heckle, to drink, to "raise hell" at the ceremony. Finally, the sheriff was called by a Forest Service official present at the coming of age ceremony to close down the river on the fourth day. The hecklers even disrespected the official's authority and lightly hit his kayak and raced away, leaving him behind.
The Coming of Age ceremony is not the only tradition Caleen has brought back. When the attacks on the Sacred Lands became more and more apparent, she realized her people had to be strong. When the BOR pushed through a plan to raise Shasta Dam higher without any attention to the Winnemem's concern for the drowning of Sacred Places (being unrecognized, they were not taken into account), without concern for the farmers, without concern that it is possible the dam would not stand the weight of fourteen feet heighth of cement on top of it, it became very serious. Rather than back off from the hard job which faced her, Caleen listened to her spirit, her heart, and called for the War Dance to return, a dance which had not been done for 100 years. It's not something easy to do. First, how do you make a sacred fire, an arbor at the dam site? All those who had witnessed a war dance were gone. How do you know what to do? Caleen's people prayed at the sacred places, prayed hard with pure hearts. They asked for help, to be able to help their people. And assistance came, through dreams or at ceremony, the help came.
The War Dance took place at the site of Shasta Lake Dam in September, 2004. I still remember the Sacred Fire being lit the evening before. A crowd of people had gathered, some out of curiosity, some tribal people, conversing. Caleen called for the war dance to begin. The fire tender made the fire, the old way, without a match, paper or flint. He caught the spark made from his bow in a ball of dry grass. When the ball burst into flame, the crowd of onlookers became hushed. The fire tender carefully added the small twigs, then the manzanita carefully. The fire was to go on for four days and nights. Caleen sent out her prayer to the world. She had been told to tell the world about the Winnemem, and the good people of the world would listen. Below us, we could see dam towering across the river. This was the place where a river, a sacred river, has been attacked, the big fish no longer can swim here. The Winnemem's homes, their cemetary were all under water and many of their sacred places only came up once a year. Raising the dam would put them underwater all of the time. The dam would not help the fish. The dam would drown the sacred places and destroy ceremonies. Ethnocide. The dam could cause a Katrina level disaster if it did not hold. The people named for this Sacred River, the Winnemem, however, were still here. They were still doing the ceremonies, and they were bringing the old way back.
I'm not going to blog much about the war dance because words don't accurately portray what took place during those four days that the war dancers danced all day and much of the night with no food, little water, and very little rest. But I will say this. The first morning, after the prayer sent out to the world, a guest showed up, an Ecuadoran Medicine Woman with her host, a woman originally from Mexico who was a delegate to the International Delegation to write the Declaration of Human Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The Medicine Woman said she thought there might be something happening here so she asked her friend to bring her. Later someone excitedly drove up and said, look at this! He had pages of names of newspapers and wire services who had picked up the story of War Dance at Shasta Lake Dam printed by the local Shasta Lake "Record." -- AP, UPI, the Guardian, the Asian equivalent of the UPI. I called my husband that day and he told me that the piece he had put on his website about war dance got 1000 hits that day. The good people of the world will listen!
I do know this leader and the Winnemem people. They will always be Winnemem. They have never stopped. They will always think Winnemem. With Caleen as their leader, they will always pray and take care of the Sacred Places and keep their ceremonies going. They will bring back their language and dormant ceremonies one by one as they are needed. They do not quit. Why do I write this today? Well, today, I read one of my favorite blogs, Winnemem Wintu, Journey to Justice. And today, Head Man Mark Franco has posted a piece asking for assistance to get the attention of Senators Boxer and Feinstein to introduce and support the Winnemem Restoration Bill. Mark works tirelessly in the most dibilitating arena -- the political arena. The work takes a huge physical toll. He does this on top of all the other responsibilities around the ranch and with Caleen to keep on top of what is being done to the land, to keep the ceremonies going, to keep the village going. If he takes the time to write this post, I do hope that his effort bears fruit.
Please copy, print, sign and send the petition as the Winnemem are asking supporters to do. The Winnemem will always be Winnemem, and they know there are many, many good people in the world who stand with them but it would be right if a little justice comes their way. Thank you and many blessings for all the support and help you can give for restoration. If the Winnemem are restored, the tribal members in their 50's won't be the last generation to have support to go to college. There's so many young ones who justly should have that opportunity. Their people will have health care again.
And they will be recognized and respected for who they are, always have been, and always will be, a historic tribe. So I am asking of all of you kind enough to read my blog, to heed the call of Head Man Mark Franco and send in a petition to their Senators who are too busy with the confusion we have wrought in the past eight years to correct a terrible wrong done to a tribe over a hundred years and more. The Winnemem should be on their radar as "their constituency." With these lists of names on a petition flying into their office every day, perhaps, then, the Senators Boxer and Feinstein might be able to spare a couple of minutes.
Senator Barbara Boxer
112 Hart Building
Washington, DC 20510-0505
Washington, DC 20510-0505
Senator Dianne Feinstein
(202) 224-3841331 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
For more information on the petition drive, to get copies of the petition, please go to the Winnemem Wintu website:
And "The Winnemem Wintu, a Journey to Justice" blog at: