To the acting Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Donald "Del" Laverdure:
This email is to ask for your help. The US Forest Service tells us their hands are tied from helping with a mandatory river closure to insure a Coming of Age ceremony safe from racial harassment, drunken boaters for the young women of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe year after year because the Winnemem do not have federal recognition. In spite of the fact that the Winnemem are part of the California Judgment Roll, another form of federal recognition predating the Reagan Administration’s “federal recognition list” which left off 90 percent of the California Indians, the US Forest Service says that it cannot honor our request for a safe ceremony. All we are asking is for a mandatory closure by the US Forest Service of a 400 yard piece of a section of the McCloud River to bring Marisa Sisk who will someday be Chief of the Winnemem Wintu into womanhood this summer, June 30 - July 3. They will only guarantee a voluntary closure even in light of
* clear evidence of racial harassment, interference, and health and safety endangerment of drunken, speeding boaters who ignore the “voluntary closure” which the US Forest Service holds to
*the Farm Bill which gives them authority to close areas and rivers for ceremony
* the UN DRIP, resolutions in Articles 11, 12, 25, in particular which does not differentiate recognized and unrecognized in being accorded their human right to ceremony and access to the lands for these ceremonies
*California AJR 39 joint resolution which asserts the state of California
recognizes the Winnemem Wintu
*an informal poll by the local Redding newspaper which shows overwhelmingly that public opinion supports honoring the right to ceremony
*overwhelming internet support
*resolutions from indigenous leaders representing their country in the UN Declaration of Rights of Indigenous People’s permanent forum.
*the terrible irony in light of the historical fact that the former Chief Florence Jones of the Winnemem Wintu is the first tribal leader to apply to bring her ceremonies “above ground” under the 1970 Native American Freedom of Religion Act and her application was granted by the Federal Government
After Moore’s snub, left with no other recourse except for prayer and ceremony Chief Caleen Sisk called for a War Dance, or H’up Chonos, which is brought out when there is nothing which can be done except prayer; 210 people came from as far north as Olympia, WA and as far south as LA to support the tribe with a respectful non-violent closure, communicating with boaters about the fact there was a ceremony and asking them to respect that. A hundred percent of the recreational boaters respectfully turned around.
The only interference to this non-violent ceremony was the US Forest Rangers who daily came through our in two vehicles, one being a canine unit buzzed us with their boats backed by the auxiliary Coast Guards and on the third day summarily shut down our closure efforts.
This unusual show of force by the US Forest Service to stop a peaceful ceremony on a small stretch motivates us to turn to the BIA. Whereas our petitions and pleas fall on deaf ears and blind eyes, our ceremony becomes targeted with police action. Something is very wrong.
Is federal recognition the only way traditional indigenous tribes have freedom and human rights in this country? In California alone, that affects 300,000 tribal people who without warning and overnight found themselves without federal recognition despite a long recorded historical relationship as tribes with the federal government. Is federal recognition, in spirit, an extermination policy? When basic rights taken for granted by everyone are withheld from one group, -- federally unrecognized -- that is called discriminatory. Furthermore, if this basic right to ceremony and religion, a central core for all tribes, is kept from them it negatively affects their mental and spiritual health and their very existence (see termination). If basic rights and religion are imposed upon by federal regulations due to a tribe’s status of federally recognized it turns them into lawbreakers. All of these are familiar pieces of what is called in our history books an EXTERMINATION policy. We must learn from history and we must not tie human rights to federal recognition. We must resist any attempt of government to do so. This is an issue that the BIA should take seriously. It has global significance.
Since we have come to a dead end with the US Forest Service who say the BIA makes the decisions regarding federal recognition, we are now directing our concerns to you. We are passing that message on, to the call for prayer as part of the National Sacred Land Prayer Day in Washington DC. as part of the invitation the Chief has sent to the International representatives of the UN Declaration of Indigenous Rights Permanent Forum and delegates from several Latin American countries, Russia and the Maori of South Island, New Zealand who will come to witness the ceremony.
Please do not send us a form letter to apply for federal recognition over this. We cannot postpone this ceremony another day! The federal recognition process often means a tribe most forego teaching their young people their traditions and their way of life in order to focus on the federal recognition process which sometimes takes 20 years, a whole generation. And even then, tribes with their own language and traditions, are still denied. The Federal recognition process does not answer the problem of the human rights of tribal people. Please clarify for the Forest Service and other governmental entities that those of you who work for the federal government entrusted with whether or not tribal people have human rights and religious rights, that there is no discrimination implied by the policy. We are all human beings. And as human beings, we have the right to access all laws protecting our religious and ceremonial rights of tribal peoples, federal recognition or not.
Chief Caleen Sisk, Winnemem Wintu firstname.lastname@example.org
Senator Barbara Boxer email@example.com
US Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell firstname.lastname@example.org
Region 5 Forester, Randy Moore email@example.com
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