Each year our tribe holds a Bałas Chonas, or Coming of Age ceremony, near our sacred Puberty Rock along the McCloud River in Northern California.
The sanctity of the two previous Ceremonies have been marred when powerboaters ignored a "voluntary closure" and entered the Ceremony site, some shouting racist and threatening remarks at the Tribe. They called us “fat Indians”, chugged alcoholic drinks in our sacred space, and even flashed us (see a video of the hecklers here).
How would you react if a band of motorcyclists barreled through your daughter’s christening?
This July we are holding a Coming of Age Ceremony for their next young chief, Marisa, and asking local and federal agencies to close a small 300-yard stretch of the river to allow us to transition our next chief to womanhood in peace and privacy.
What is most infuriating is that federal and local officials refuse to protect our religious freedom by closing the river to outsiders during the ceremony. They have the power and authority to provide us the privacy and sanctity we require. They simply lack the will to do what’s right.
The U.S. Forest Service now oversees the ceremonial grounds, a traditional Winnemem village site, and runs it as a campground. But they are dismissive, disrespectful and completely unwilling to acknowledge our special connection to these lands.
This is about religious freedom, but it also about our ability to exist as a traditional culture.
Until our river is closed, we will be delivering our young women from the water’s womb into the middle of a spiritual war zone.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. You can give the authorities the will to respect our freedom to exercise our religion.
Please call on the U.S. Forest Service Regional Forester Randy Moore, Sheriff's Office, Representative Wally Herger and Senators Boxer and Feinstein to close the river for the ceremony.
After you sign the petition, contact at email@example.com and 707-562-8737 to to let him know that ignoring us is unacceptable, and he should have the courage to implement a mandatory closure.
Please keep your messages peaceful and respectful.
- U.S. Forest Service Special Agent, Law Enforcement Unit
- U.S. Forest Service Supervisor
J. Sharon Heywood
- Shasta County Sheriff
- District Ranger
- Shasta County Sheriff Boating Safety Unit
Captain David Dean
- Regional Forester
I'm writing to urge you to intervene and assist the Winnemem Wintu Tribe in holding their Bałas Chonas, Coming of Age Ceremony, in the peace and dignity they deserve. The ceremony ties together the fabric of the tribal society by bringing young girls into womanhood and takes place on a small stretch of the McCloud River, from where the tribe originates. The sacred Puberty Rock and the Two Sisters mountains at the site are integral to the Ceremony, making it the only place that can be used.
During the 2006 Bałas Chonas, the Tribe was subjected to racist, disrespectful, and dangerous treatment when drunken powerboaters disregarded a temporary closure and entered the site. Four years later during the 2010 Ceremony, celebrants and other tribal members once again endured an element of intrusive voyeurism from boaters.
In preparation for the 2011 Ceremony, the Tribe has made every effort to peaceably achieve a temporary closure of the 300-yard section of river where the Ceremony takes place. But the poor relations between federal and local agencies with jurisdiction over the site have made it impossible to broker an agreement.
Waimem Sisk-Franco, the young woman who went through her Bałas Chonas in 2006, will carry the experience of being taunted and “flashed” during this most sacred moment for the rest of her life as will all of her fellow tribal youth who witnessed the behavior. It’s already difficult enough to grow up Indian in the U.S., and the Winnemem young people do not deserve to be further traumatized.
This summer’s Ceremony is for the young woman who is to become their next spiritual leader, and it’s vital to the future of the Tribe that the ceremony happens without interference or incident. I urge you to use your considerable power and influence to help the Tribe secure the needed temporary closure. I believe you can either broker an agreement or find another means, perhaps legislative intervention, to provide the Winnemem Wintu with their basic rights to religious freedom and dignified access to the sacred sites that are irreplaceable in the practice of their religion.
I look forward to your reply at the responses email below.
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