Winnemem Wintu - The Journey to Justice

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Location: Redding, CA, United States

Monday, January 19, 2009

One final entry on the inauguration and transition for President Barack Obama.

I have listened to many newscasts on the transition from President Bush to president Obama in the last several weeks and, particularly today, and cannot help but wonder when will this country see all of America's people: the Native American, Asian American, African American, Mexican American, white American, and all those who chose this country as a place to come to as a refuge from the lands that treated them poorly and did not give them the opportunities that they find here

I'm happy that Barack Obama was elected to be the President of the United States. As has been pointed out all day long, he is the first black American to hold that office, but the thing that strikes me the most is that these commentators and people from all different walks of life: those who work in politics, those who work in the news, those who hold blue-collar and white-collar jobs, hold this election up as being the turning point in American history. The turning point where America recognizes its “minority populations" and has recognized the black American experience as being the benchmark for righting the wrongs of the past 300 years.

All of the wrongs that were pointed out on television today: the murder of innocent children, the beatings, lynching of people whose only crime was being the wrong skin color, the segregation of people from using water fountains, riding on public transportation, being able to vote, were not unfortunately, only perpetrated against the African-American. Those who studied history and those of us whose history is being studied remember that our relatives to, were victims of genocide, of separation from family, sent to boarding schools where our elders, mothers and fathers were beaten for speaking their own language. This is not to diminish in any way the tragedy of the black experience in America, nor is it to diminish the fact that the United States now has a black man as its president. It is only to point out that the American Indian, the first people of this country, are still waiting for a benchmark to be established that shows that we also, have reached a turning point with our relations between our tribes in the United States government.

Today we celebrated the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, another great American hero taken from the people way too soon. His famous "dream speech"has been evoked by many of the speakers today in discussing the election of President Obama, some even going so far as to say that this was the dream of Dr. King. I would hope that the new president combines that dream with his own and then listens to the dreams of those of us who carry the dreams and hopes for the future for our tribal people.

I will watch the inauguration of Barack Obama with a sense of wonder, with a prayer that all things go well for our newly elected president, and with the hope that one day, America will come full circle and correct the wrongs of the past, however many years it will be, and we may all witness a true healing of the land that is now America, when an American Indian is sworn in as president of the United States.

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Thursday, January 15, 2009


Since 1851, the United States has had 31 Presidents and the State of California has had 37 Governors . Also,since 1851, the Winnemem Wintu tribe has had 5 leaders. So I sit here wondering during this time of transition just how will this new president be able to improve on what has been done by the previous 31.

As those of you have read this blog may understand, the state of California recently passed a joint resolution calling for United States government to restore recognition to our people. Since that time I've been informed by assembly member Jared Huffman's staff that the resolution had indeed been sent to Washington DC for action.

I realize that the United States government has many important things happening within its sphere of influence. Just as we have been told over and over and over again, Congress is busy, the president is busy and matters of state take precedent over the concerns of unrecognized Tribes.

So now were in transition once again, but whose transition is it really? Is a transition from a previous status quo whereby the United States government is busy working on the problems of the world without really looking at the problems at home? Is it a transition from one do-nothing government to another do-nothing government? Or is this going to be a transition from a government that has too long ignored the plight of its own people - into a government that cares for the people at home first.

The Winnemem Wintu continue our life way and traditional ceremonies and teaching just as we have since Millard Fillmore was president and long before that; we now have Barack Obama as president and we will continue our life way and traditional ceremonies. The only problem is that we are facing too many obstacles and too many enemies are approaching our Gates. As I sit writing this blog, I have before me on my desk approximately 30 timber harvest plans, requests for consultation, and notifications of discontinuance of services. As I wrote about in last week's blog entries we just had another funeral. We have no government support, we have no ready income, and so it makes it difficult even to bury our dead. As I also wrote in previous blog entries we are fighting with PG&E over the increase of hydropower generation at the McCloud reservoir dam. I'm looking at a PG&E bill for $2400. I wonder how these big companies sleep knowing that the people that they are doing injustice to by day, worry about how they're going to pay the bills to those same people by night.

So as we see it in the transition millions of dollars being spent to celebrate president Obama's inauguration, I can't help but wonder how will this transition actually help the tribal people of the United States. Estimates from the news pundits show that the inauguration itself will cost upwards of $100 million and more: if the Winnemem Wintu had but only 1% of that amount of money we could keep our village running for a full year or better. With only a half a percent of that money we could ensure that everyone on our village had food and electricity for one year. I guess transition is just expensive.

When our current leader took over for the late leader Florence, we received assistance from our sister and her husband in Oregon, we used up our Social Security and disability monies to pay for the funeral and the dinner for those who came to honor our dead and we received letters of condolence from one of our state senators and one of our local assembly members but we didn't receive any money for a transition. I don't know maybe I'm just tired, tired of watching people transition, but never really changing.

I hope that the new administration looks at California Indian issues and Indian issues all around the United States with a different eye. And I hope too that those people who are placed in the positions of power running departments and agencies and bureaus and cabinet seats are able to transition from what they were before into new people, better people, whose job it is to look out for all of those in the United States. For all of those who have become disenfranchised and disenchanted with the transitions we have seen.

We know that things can only get better, because believe me they can't really get any worse.
President Obama, if your people are watching things with your names attached, look for the AJR 39 information on behalf of the Winnemem Wintu and lets see if there really will be a new change and a transition that will actually transcend.

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Sunday, January 04, 2009

One year ends; another begins

Well another use New Year is here. As I sit in my office, a great sense of sadness fills my heart.
Over the past year the Winnemem Wintu lost two very important people to our village structure: my mother Mary Franco passed away in September and my right-hand man Randy Ward passed away on January 2.

The Christmas holiday was not all that Christmas usually is. My family and I were still grieving for the loss of my mother and worrying about Randy. And so what normally is a happy time here in the village was much more subdued and introspective. Our holy people who carry our spiritual medicines and spiritual life way, point out that much of the suffering and sadness that we feel is due to the constant worry and constant struggle to restore the status of the Winnemem Wintu so that we can have access to adequate medical and social programs that are so desperately needed by our folks here village.

I say these things not to elicit any sympathy for those of you who may read this but to merely point out the fact: without adequate health care and with the constant worry of trying to provide for people who have nothing, we are unable to do the things the creator had set for us in carrying the needs of these folks. Had we been able to completely apply all of our energies to helping our folks say healthy as opposed to running from one fire to another that are set by the government trying to put them out in order to save the cultural life way of our people we would've been able to make sure that medicines that needed to be prepared and taken were in fact prepared properly and taken and taken as they are supposed to be.

Again as I sit here looking out over the village still feeling the sadness of his recent loss and waiting for the wake and funeral that will be coming later this week I'm trying to reflect on what good has come to the Winnemem Wintu over this past year. It's hard to pick out the good because you see it seems that for every one step forward the tribe makes were pushed back two.
During 2008 the Winnemem Wintu were able to make contact and work with law firm of Reed Smith. This law firm has done more for our tribe in the short period of time that we work together at all of the other law firms that volunteered to help us have done over the past 15 years. That's saying a lot because the issues that any law firm that wishes to help us with are so complex and intertwined that to separate them is almost impossible. But the folks at Reed Smith have been able to distill the issues that we face down to their most basic common denominator and that is that the Winnemem Wintu have suffered great harms at the hands of the federal government and its agencies and agents. And so, we are preparing an answer to the years of abuse and will soon the able to call the government into court to explain their actions and interactions which have over the years cause such great harm.

Also during 2008, Assembly Member Jared Huffman,from Marin County, looked at the issue of the Winnemem Wintu and the harms that were caused on the McCloud River and, taking a great political risk, carried forward Assembly Joint Resolution 39, a resolution calling for the restoration of the Winnemem Wintu tribal status. This resolution finally passed through the California state legislature and Senate and was to be sent to the President of the United States the California Congressional delegation the department of interior and the Bureau of Indian affairs for their consideration and action. As I said, for every one step forward there seems to be two steps backwards and so we are unsure if the resolution made it to those people because we just had an election and a new president coming in, new heads to different departments, and so we need to ensure that the resolution is read by President Obama and by those who will be responsible for the department of interior and Bureau of Indian affairs.

We have also been very fortunate to have when working with us a group of dedicated activists from the state of Oregon who has seen what the Winnemem Wintu tribe have gone through and have committed to helping us getting our message across and so they are working on sending letters signing petitions, and contacting people in positions of power, to help our poor tribe. For those people we are so grateful and so appreciative of the efforts.

I sit here and wonder what tribal people must think: those tribes who have been able to benefit from their casinos, from government assistance, and to their own hard work. I wonder what they think of the efforts of those of us who have sacrificed for what they now benefit from when they see things like this blog or see the efforts of other tribal people in the state of California, for example, to continue a culture that so many have forgotten.

Let's all pray for a better New Year; that our tribal people will live and that all our dreams will be fulfilled and we can be proud of who we are a tribal people.