There is a profound difference between the Dominant Culture’s use of the land, and tribe such as the Winnemem Wintu’s relationship with the land.
Outside the towering, gray walls of the U.S. Forest Service’s office in Vallejo, California, April 16, the Winnemem Wintu’s War Dance song pealed out defiantly from nearly 50 tribal members and supporters who held signs reading “Respect Native Women. Close the River” and “Our Ceremony, Our Rights, Close the River.”
…the continuation and preservation of traditional Native American Religion is ensured only through the performance of ceremonies and rites by tribal members. These ceremonies and rites are often performed on specific sites…These sites may also be based on special geographic features…For most Native American religions, there may be no alternative places of worship since these ceremonies must be performed at certain places and times to be effective.
Forest Service officials say they can legally close the river only for a federally recognized tribe, and the Winnemem have delayed Marisa’s ceremony, fearing it will be disrupted by the same vulgar disturbances that have marred the previous two ceremonies within the tribe’s ancestral territory along the McCloud River.
Even though “…for most Native American religions, there may be no alternative places of worship since these ceremonies must be performed at certain places and times to be effective.”
Ignoring voluntary closures, recreational boaters have motored through the ceremony site, now a Forest Service campground, some swilling beer and yelling racial slurs like “Fat Indians!” or disruptive taunts like “It’s our river too, dude!” In 2006, a drunken woman flashed the tribe with her naked breasts, and in 2010 a boater dumped cremations in the river shortly before a ceremonial swim.
The Dominant Culture doesn’t want “the Indian in us” to survive. It wants “the Indian in us” to convert, to stop seeing the devil in its own heart and to see their devil in the wilderness.
The land is sacred. These words are at the core of your being. The land is our mother, the rivers our blood. Take our land away and we die. That is, the Indian in us dies.
– Mary Brave Bird
The Winnemem Wintu tribe has tried to have their ceremony on that sacred river for years now, I pray they will finally be able to have it in peace.