I will say personally, there is a different feeling this year working with the Forest Service for the Coming of Age Ceremony, and I have hope this feeling goes through the complete process. This year Region 5 has provided us with a Tribal Liaison who brought with him the cultural staff for the Forest which oversees our sacred lands. Although Region 5, in the last weeks of our communication yanked the Tribal Liaison from the position of working with us and replaced him with the very next person in rank with the Forest office under a very hateful Forest Ranger, he seems to be open to working with us. His superior has never from the time Chief began to hold the Coming of Age Ceremonies for women where it was supposed to be, never met with us nor acknowledged our need to talk with the Forest about our use of our former homeland. Also involved is the person who is the intermediate Supervisor of several Forests, the original one who refused anything but a voluntary closure of the river, allowing only the haters and drunks to race, and shout, and rubberneck through our ceremony to come through.
We will have something to celebrate together if this new team has come together to help the tribe, or at the least, stop interfering with the tribe to peacefully bring a young girl through her womanhood ceremony in a dignified manner, a beautiful ceremony, Balas Chonos, It will be something that she receives everything she is supposed to from the spirit of the place, the ancestors, surrounded by those who care about her, whether tribal or by a government agency which sees values in such things and she has a chance to grow to be a strong Winnemem woman. I want to share that these ceremonies work in the most contemporary sense in period when it's so hard to grow up. Gangs, drug and alcohol addiction, depression, teen suicide, teen pregnancy so many things that can turn a young life into a downward spiral. In fact, the generations who parented and grandparented this generation have such stories and some survived, many did not. But 100 percent of these young ones who live at the Village, grow up taking care of ceremony, and go through a Coming of Age, are addiction free, are happy, know they are important to the tribe, step up to their traditional roles, or go to college -- some both --get a job. They make good and healthy choices. It is that important. We all want Alicia to have a good life. Babers, Winona, Jessica and even Marisa, our next Chief, came through a ceremony riddled with attacks, especially Marisa. It angered us to see those LEO's in the trees above the young women's camp ogling our youth through binoculars but we were in a ceremonial mode. We did have fears that our young women going through stressful ceremonies would not get those gifts of ceremony. So we prayed harder. And so far, it seems they're all ok, making good decisions. But for Alicia, we would, of course, love for her to have all the attention she should have, and all the blessings of that place.
It is not a small feat, nor is it of narrow importance in the scheme of things to come together -- Forest government bureaucrats and tribe -- so a young person stays on a good path of life. In the context of Indian Country it is phenomenal thing. The Winnemem like most of Native tribes are not materially well off at all with the weight of colonialization and negative governmental policies used against them. But the Winnemem are ceremonially rich and attached just as their ancestors were to their sacred lands keeping the ceremonies alive, therefore keeping the sacredness alive in their sacred places. When Forest and Tribe come together to do this for a young person, one more person who is born into poverty but not stunted by it, and instead who finds goodness in what really matters, and then grows to be an adult who gives goodness and raises the next generation, it is not a small feat and it is not just for this tribe, this region, but for the world. I'm a school teacher of 35 years and I know this to be true. That's what I hope we are accomplishing this time. That's what my prayer has been, that that is our common goal young girl by girl for as long as this sacred river flows. I approach our July 19th meeting between Forest Service and Tribe with cautious optimism.
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