Saturday, June 22, 2013

Negotiating Ceremony with the USFS, 2013

 You all know what happened during our young women's Coming of Age in 2012 when the USFS law enforcement decided to attack our ceremony rather than protect it as they were assigned when Randy Moore granted us a Mandatory Closure.  I guess after the mess, and after the the citations against Chief Caleen Sisk costing 10,000 dollars or a year in the federal prison were dropped in October, Randy Moore wants it to go well this year as does Tom Tidwell the Chief of the Forest Service in Washington DC.  Or so we have been told by the Region 5 Tribal Liaison.   Thanks to all the supporters who wrote, emailed and weighed in with their outrage that this attack by federal officials could be happening in a country which guarantees the inalienable right to ceremony and religion and recently became the last nation in the world to finally sign on to the UN DRIP.  Well, we're at it again for the Coming of Age Ceremony for Alicia Schofield who just turned 16 this year, a beautiful Winnemem Potowatami woman who is part of a family of dancers, Thundering Moccasins Dance Troupe.  Her Ceremony will be July 20 - 23.  The tribe wanted to work this out back in November so we could guarantee a better working relation ship for the next ceremony and for all those following.  However, Randy Moore has never talked with us.  In May, we finally met with the Tribal Liaison, a likeable Karuk man who seems to want to make this happen but admittedly does not have authority.  Here is how it is unfolding at this point.  He is still trying to get the US Forest Service to understand that the ceremony must have campground and river closed to outsiders and the tribe pay no fee.  I know the closure is obvious to those who are not indigenous, but why the tribe has a problem with paying a fee problem may not be so understandable in a society based on money.  So that is the subject of the blog.

 While the Chief is in Altai, in Russia, we received an email from the Forest Service Tribal Liaison raising the issue once again about fees, impending deadlines set by the concessionaire and Forest Service for turning in the Special Use Permit and Reserving Pine Point Campground.  Fees and deadlines seem to be such important values to the Forest Service, and always, they impose it at will.  They may dawdle months of time away responding to our request for a meeting, they may never make the time to meet with tribe, but they are very serious about their deadlines once they become involved and very much set on determining the issue of fees.  This year they have strict regulations they cannot talk business with the Concessionaire who has set the cost of services dealing with toilet and trash at $990 which they've done for $250 each year for McCloud Campground.  Also the Concessionaire is demanding we reserve Pine Point Campground, and the Forest Service timing of paying for anything is after the event, and they cannot promise they will pay the Concessionare for Pine Point.  The Forest Service, however, is pushing us to reserve a campground we are prevented by tradition to pay fees for usage.  Their rules and protocols are complicating the sanctity of the ceremony which have been clearly explained to them -- and yet they continue to push.  Reserve the campground.  Take a risk on paying the fee or suffering a penalty if you will not.  Criminalizing Ceremony.

I responded to that email:

I've communicated with our lawyer the things discussed with the Chief at the meeting with you and let her know you will be calling Thursday to work out the Special Use Permit.  I understand your concern regarding the timing of reserving Pine Point, and your concern that the  permit be submitted quickly despite the ambiguity around campground fee payment on the Forest Service side and the problems created by working of the old special permit rather than the special permit we finally negotiated with the Forest Service last summer.  We cannot move forward without the progress being noted in the document. 

Regarding the special use permit, Lauren is aware that the Chief shared with you already that she has concerns that we are staring once again with the language which still criminalizes the ceremony.  I've assured the lawyer that you  are looking for a copy of the negotiated permit and will be working from that.  Added to that, the permit designed for "timber sales" which Penny sent along to give to us as a way to address gathering materials is totally inappropriate for our needs and will definitely prove problematic, criminalizing our ceremony.    I've asked the lawyer to give special attention to the language and section which allowed the LEO's to give the Chief that second citation which doubled the citation.  All in all, the permit as it has been worked by you and Penny still criminalizes ceremony.

Regarding McCloud Campground cost for trash pick-up and toilets and the raise from $250 for those services to $990, it's all in the way you look at it.  It looks like, as you pointed out, the Concessionaire is trying to get a percentage of the campground usage fee covered rather than for services for removing trash and sanitation. We can't pay fees.   It's not about how much it costs.  It's a traditional "rule" -- that there is no exchange of money of any amount, no bartering of any kind as part of ceremony.  It is that way all over Indian Country.  For example, in Eugene, people try to have a fundraiser at the Longhouse, and the answer is no.  They try to bring in bingo.  Someone admires earrings and wants to buy it.  No, no. And it is the leader's or steward's responsibility to hold that.

Regarding Pine Point -- we cannot reserve online then be stuck with a campground usage fee there either.   It is a human rights issue.  As you know, the tribe's human right to ceremony should not be withheld, despite the "unrecognized tribe label"  slapped on 90 percent of the California tribes.  Federal government may and do withhold services and grants based on that label.  But can they withhold freedom of religion?  Only if they want the world to judge the federal recognition policy as a human rights violation and bring to question the whole concept.   The human right to ceremony and religion is an inalienable right.  Our ceremonial rights as a tribe, though we may not be recognized by the federal government,  are the same rights as all the rights won by indigenous people in the US Constitution and on the world stage (UN DRIP).  Particularly because  President Obama finally signed it, it behooves tribes of this country to "make it real," to actualize it even though the President's staff minimalize  his signing it as merely "aspirational."  President Obama claims he intends to show his sincerity as Commander in Chief "by action."  If that means he's only got the Winnemem Tribe in his corner, then we need to uphold the rights of indigenous people in that document.   Our Chief sitting on the Permanent Forum has told us first hand that there is no discrimination of federal recognition in the document.   

So that brings us to these camp fees -- the one for Pine Point and the percentage for the McCloud.  Every tribe knows that fees are regulatory impositions which compromise the sanctity or distorts the sanctity of ceremony,  Even though we are one tribe, what we do impacts all tribes, either  by reducing or by emphasizing the basic human right to ceremony.  So the Winnemem and our Chief take that very seriously, being a ceremonial tribe, and a tribe which may not have much materially but at least we have our ceremonies and relationships with the sacred places.   She's being very thoughtful of what we do, even with imposed deadlines.  So we're not pushing her.  Yes, the unknown factors may cause us to worry but we need to wait for Chief Sisk's direction because it is informed by her ancestors.

I take this time to address this to you -- who have already heard it -- as well as to our lawyer who is cc'd in with this email.  Last year, the Chief made some compromises which, in the end, compromised our right to ceremony and compromised her peace of mind and safety.  This year the tribe learned a lot and is absolutely clear that we need to follow the Chief.  She has proven over the years, including last year, that no one knows more than she how to navigate extermination policies.

Chief Sisk has been taught by her ancestors and former Chiefs that paying a fee changes things.  She has been taught through her whole life that ceremony IS the exchange, the "payment" in crass terms, in our relationship with the sacred.  Our obligations are more than the dance, the singing, the teaching, the praying, but it is also all we do to prepare for it.  Paying a fee is not something we should take lightly.     The lawyer and I  are not in the position to make that call.  What may seem sensible to descendants of immigrants and settlers, as we saw last year, may not be good for the history of indigenous human rights.  The laws treat us descendants differently than the laws treat Indian people.  As a follower of the Winnemem way for almost 30 years, I would absolutely not second guess spiritual guidance, tens of thousands years of tradition, an unbroken line of leadership and a tribe which has survived a gamut of extermination policies and still do.    Listening and learning takes a lot of patience, and over the years, I'm growing patience.  So I'm saying we just give our worry about  deadlines and such to the Creator.    The Chief is taking the time to really think about it, and will let us know what it is that we must do about this year's roadblocks.

Thank you,  Misa

Hi, I am in Altai.  They don't have to pay the Russian Government to hold their Fire Ceremony on their lands. 

The good conditions that were achieved last year by permit and costs the FS paid, which were few, needs to continue now.  I don't understand how the Forest Service can say it can't, when last year,  they did.  This included the fees to the concessionaire.  We will not pay for use of our sacred grounds.  The Forest Service is the ultimate manager of our land without our consent.  It is our right to use our lands to promote our distinctive cultural way of life.   Chief Caleen Sisk

Well, I would say that the Chief did ot need much time at all to let the US Forest Service know what she said, and that she meant it and what path we are taking.  The supporters know it.  Our lawyer knows it.  Her communicators with the Forest Service know it.  This year it is one voice, one unified tribe.

I am learning that the issues which arise around  holding ceremony on sacred land occupied by the US Forest Service means struggle.  We must struggle for our rights despite documents which clearly outline that our ceremonies are not to be imposed upon by regulations and rules by the US Forest Service.  Yes, the fact that the federal government does not give 'federal recognition' to so many of the California Tribes who sit on water since Reagan's years-- you know, the President which made corporations entities much like a human being with human rights -- makes it even more difficult.  But it is more than that.  The challenge includes water districts acting like corporations who buy pieces of rivers around the world, also buying the piece on the McCloud which include our sacred lands for many ceremonies, and medicine places.  It includes a Forest Service which is organized in a manner that no one can tell the most poorly trained and the most racist of their law enforcement to abide by their assignment -- to protect our ceremony by enforcing a mandatory closure -- and when they "go rogue" they are still paid overtime for insubordination of their assignment interfering with ceremony and harassing the tribe with no disciplinary action.  In fact,  the leader of the military action against the ceremony can hang our river closure banner which he confiscated from us on the wall of his office -- something that definitely should be considered unprofessional.   Or, was Chad "going rogue."  Did Chad receive orders to attack our ceremony from someone in the Forest Service or in other places with personal interests to terminate  Winnemem presence on the McCloud River, whomever that might be.    

But with crisis and challenge is opportunity.  For us, it is meeting and standing shoulder to shoulder with the good people of the world who come to support us because they care about human rights, they care about sacred lands, they care about the salmon, and young women's coming of age ceremonies.

WHAT NEXT?  The question, "Will the US Forest Service impose upon our ceremonies a rule refsing to allow us to use our motorized boat to transport elder women to the other side to do ceremony?"

As we negotiate with these departments for the right to do our ceremony on occupied land, it always comes down to their deadline and their fees.  When it is an issue of human rights, we can't compromise.  We cannot do anything which leads to compromising our ceremony so much that it changes it -- or mincing away from doing what we need to do because conducting ceremony with sanctity criminalizes us.  So we have to be clear.  As I told our lawyer, it's like a contiuum from Federal Law to Spiritual Law.  We went along with Federal Law as far as we can go.  Now they have stonewalled, and hemmed and hawed, and now we have gone as far as we can with their law without compromising sanctity.  Now we are in the realm of Spiritual Law, and we have to abandon ourselves to the spiritual.  I believe because of H'up Chonos ceremony, the Sacred Fire, the prayers and song, that something good we can't guess is going to happen.  It's in Creator's hands.  We have the support of the old Chiefs and the Spirit of those Active Sacred Places, and we can now witness something which strengthens our faith.  Remember War Dance at the dam?  Because of that ceremony we found out salmon were alive and flourishing in New Zealand.  This is where you find out how it is to work with traditional tribes and the US government.   At some point, if law abandons us, we have no alternative except to do what the ancestors would do.   And I say O Hau to that!!

I foresee a time when things are so different that not only are their war dancers and prayers at a women's coming of age, but that there will be Indigenous Supporters from south, west and north in order for us to have our human right to ceremony -- the river keepers from the west; the American Indian Movement security from the south; and from the north the great canoes to ferry the elders across with their songs echoing down the river, their paddles cutting through the water, their great dugouts gliding across the river.  As the Chief said, "when those great canoes touch this river, something good is going to happen." 

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

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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.