Friday, October 19, 2012

The Other Issue

      I mentioned that during my long absence from blogging that I had resolved a couple of issues while busy at work for the Winnemem Wintu cause.

     Rather than an issue, I would call the second phenomena a steep and rigorous learning curve.

     The Chief is unique as a member in her generation.  Her generation suffered from all the bad government policies directed at the tribe as well as the trauma of her parents' generation.  Her parents generation suffered the loss of tribe by the drowning of their homeland, the lies of the BOR and Congress in promises made of "like land."  A huge loss.  The Chief's generation lost even more.  In the 1980's all their rights as federally recognized tribes disappeared over night -- the health care, the educational support, but more important their rights.  As she succeeded Grams as Chief of the Winnemem, she found that all agreements made with the Winnemem became null and void without any discussion because the tribe had become federally unrecognized.  There are repercussions to loss.  Alcoholism.  Early death.  Christianity.  But, in spite the trauma, the Chief stayed true to the Winnemem Way.  No self destructive detours.    The Chief is a survivor of genocide -- chemical warfare of alcohol and drugs, the cultural genocide brought in by bad government policies and Christianity.  The Chief followed her ancestors.  She brought the tribe back to live in one Village, all the young children raised by all of them.  She brought back the coming of age ceremonies for both the boys and the girls so that they could grow to be good Winnemem.  She brought back the War Dance in 2001 at Shasta Lake Dam, the "weapon of mass destruction" used against the Winnemem Way of Life.
     With War Dance, the Winnemem stopped the funding to raise the Shasta Lake Dam higher, something which would have drowned all the rest of their sacred places on the river, at least 40 and perhaps as much as 80.  With the War Dance, the news of which went around the world, she was contacted by New Zealand that the Winnemem salmon still flourished in their South Island Rivers, salmon which we all had believed were gone forever with the building of the dam.  With the return to the Winnemem village, with homeschooling instead of public school, with the return of the men and women's coming of age ceremonies,  in just a generation,  there is 100 percent sobriety.  In just one generation the  younger generation is stronger than the older generation.
     The Chief made connections internationally, first through the UN Declaration of Rights of Indigenous Peoples becoming a member of their permanent forum.  She connected with New Zealand Human Rights Commission and the Maori people and took her tribe to South Island to do ceremony for their salmon.  She began to create a Salmon Restoration Proposal for above the dam which would bring the salmon back home from New Zealand with the partnership of the Maori, the New Zealand Fish and Game.  The Chief was able to work with the state legislature and Councilman Jerod Huffman to pass a Joint Resolution (AJR 39) with which CA recognizes the Winnemem Tribe and urges the US Congress to return Federal Recognition to them.
     What I leave off here that many of these accomplishments were shared by another person, a life partner.  He had some challenges.  Bringing people together was not his forte.  He had some gifts.  Bright.  Hardworking.  And talked boldly about commitment to the Winnemem values -- water, sacred lands, ceremony, -- and coined the "long journey to justice."  After 25 years, raising a daughter, bringing his precious elders, mother and father, to live with the Winnemem, and when they passed on, buried them in the Winnemem cemetary, brought his cousin with Down Syndrome to be taken care of there, he chose a trite and sad way to desert the tribe and it affected us all.  He slipped out, left behind all his responsibilities, and turned a disdainful, selfish, hateful face toward the Chief, the opposite of his past loyalty and affection.   So, the Chief was left to herself to find the way for the sake of her tribe, and her adult children.  And she had to do this on her own.  She did.  She traveled to every sacred place and following the spirits, and taking the full blow of the pain by herself, she undid this most personal treachery suffered by the Winnemem and step by step, piece by piece, brought back balance and brought her children and his cousin out of harms way.  Her heart was literally broken.  She began to heal physically also.
      The past year, are when the lessons began to become apparent.  That is what this blog is about.  The hard won lessons led by a Great Chief.  I believe that Caleen Sisk will go into Winnemem history as one of the Great Chiefs, a great communicator all over the world, a great leader of human rights, water, sacred lands, a great teacher, and a great spiritual leader who brings her people back to their way of life.  Now that we are in the part of our history when all the backroom deals have come out in the open, the treacheries have faces, the enemies have made themselves known and nothing is hidden, we must be strong and unified.  We are now facing the Forest Service Law Enforcement.  We have survived a possible  paid plant's disruption of our tribe.  We have met with the BOR and Westlands and they have shown us their destructive plans.  Those who don't believe in the Winnemem way have shown it through word and action.  Those who do believe have lined up with the Chief, Hoopa, Maori, AIM, environmental activists.

       Being born Winnemem is different from not being born Winnemem.   When a tribe must break new ground, in a bigger arena, and the rules change, that tribe must be unified.  There is only one way to be unified in the Winnemem Tribe and that is to follow the Chief.  We are not a tribal council tribe.  We are not the US government.  We're Winnemem with a strong successional government.  Our leader does not go it alone, a charismatic, ego-centered individualist.  As the Chief says, our leaders have 100 Winnemem leaders behind them.  And our leaders follow the ancient ways.
     I have found that it is very natural for the Chief's people who were born Winnemem to adapt which helps to show a unified front.  In times of change, I have found that for others, not born Winnemem, may fall on their own past upbringing, experience, college degree, personal quirks.  Sometimes, it feels like a tribal council election, people pushing their own agenda, looking for support.  Eventually, the realization that most follow the Chief stops maneuvering, alien to the tribe,  and that plays itself out until it kind of just peters away.
     I'm not born Winnemem.  But I've avoided this maneuvering because I really really know that I am not born Winnemem as does Will, and we know that the smartest thing to do is to follow the survivor of the Winnemem holocaust, and that would be our Chief.  To follow a law degree, or one's former  experience, or a parliamentary or Greek democracy model just doesn't get us to the goal as a unified tribe.
     The young ones are stepping up.  As believers, as Winnemem born Winnemem, as celebrants of their own coming of age, they are unfazed, and ready for this time.

     Allies have stepped up.  The allies find us.  Our work is inspirational to them.  They are drawn to the work.  Those who saw the Winnemem as celebrities have backed away.  Too much work.  Never stops.  The work is probably one of the reasons the Nowhere Man left.  All the assumptions voiced in the past that other tribes won't support the Winnemem, that activists may not respect the tribal ways have been proven to be just that -- assumptions.  And finally on the corner in front of the Federal Courthouse on Bechelli, holding up our signs "Ceremony is not a Crime" and the AIM contingent, Wounded Knee and the AIM Banner with us, students from several California universities traveling to be with us, the ACLU, and hearing the friendly honks of solidarity from many trucks, suv's and cars of Redding, the assumption that there is not support in Redding can be dismissed.  Gary said that we were stupid to have a rally in Redding because we will be shot by rifles and killed -- not true.  Could have been true, without a doubt, but not true.

Adversity will make us stronger.  We prayed to survive 2010-2011, but I did not realize how good things could be at this moment in 2012, even with bad news and new challenges.  The tribe has come together, stronger and more unified than before.  We've lost some people along the way, but we have learned their absence, just as their presence in the past, has had a good effect as people jostle and adjust to the empty spaces, as things change because it is another mix.  Sometimes I think to myself that that person would have loved these times, but then I think, perhaps these times would not have happened if things had not changed -- not to be meant personally -- it's just how things are with fluctuations.  It's a humbling insight that we are all expendable, and it's ok.  Things go on and it feels good, just as good, as the past.  The Chief is radiant.  Her body has changed with diet, with weekly exercise, she receives many compliments.  She is stunning at Sixty.  I remember the way she was treated, teased for being heavy, made to feel unattractive.  That woman is gone.  One, she is beautiful and vibrant.  Two, she would not put up with that treatment from anyone anymore.  She has perspective on herself.  She is also finding that like Grams, she CAN lead on her own. Today, I can't even bring back how it felt, things have changed so dramatically.  We are filled with things to do, grateful for the second wind we seemed to have caught, and the strong ties with the sacred lands, the Maori, new allies, our ancestors, the younger generation, invigorated with the direction we are going even with possibilities of more citations and arrests, because we have been tested and learned that there is confidence in following the ancestral way.

NEVER let the Chief face jail alone ever again!
     As I said we were all tested, and we all learned.  We definitely did not know the terrain -- none of us knew, from activist lawyer right on down the chain.  Without really getting into it, we made mistakes during this transition of Forest Service being benign or friendly to the Forest Service becoming bullies and oppressors, the biggest mistake being to allow our Chief to be criminalized by herself.  I say if this were a game of chess, it is over for us. I wrote a lot of lessons here, but deleted them.  The main thing is, we should follow the Chief.  Why?  She is following the ancestors.  She is the connection to the future and past.  She is the receiver of War Dance messages.  She is a survivor of the Winnemem Holocaust.  She is an exceptional leader,  a leader for the times, and a leader the world listens to.

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"from Outside the Belly" was also known as "TBAsian" from 2008-2010. Thank you for reading.

from Outside the Monster's Belly

from Outside the Monster's Belly
. . . following Earth instead (Rakaia River, site of Salmon Ceremony, photo credit Ruth Koenig)


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Eugene, Oregon
I am a citizen of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe. I am a Nikkei descendant sansei (third generation);retired teacher, involved in the Winnemem tribal responsibility to Water, Salmon, and our belief that the Sacred is our Teacher. Working locally for human rights and supporting youth leadership.