Winnemem Wintu - The Journey to Justice

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Location: Redding, CA, United States

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Government Misdirection and other ailments in Washington

Those of you who remember all the way back to last year may recall that the State of California adopted in both houses a resolution (AJR 39) which supported the Winnemem Wintu effort to have Congress and the president look into our tribal status and called upon them to correct the mistake of our omission from the list of recognized tribes. The document was sent, from the State here all the way across the country to Washington DC, where it was to be delivered to all of the California legislative representatives and Senators as well as the President, the Secretary of the Interior, the BIA and the Committee on Indian Affairs. Now, that must have cost a lot of stamps and time to get that sent and we are now almost a year into its sending and guess what: No response from anyone, not even a staffer named Joe or Billy or Johnny (anyone of Indian Staffers at least) has sent anything...nothing, zip, nil, Nada.

So, we send letters and emails to the Indian keepers in the District asking: "Hey Chalit..what's up with our papers? Did ya read 'em yet?" To these messages; many sent to folks we helped when they were itty bitty guys and gals, also go unanswered. Hmmm, I says to myself, what gives with this..looking a mirror I still see my mug and looking across the room I see the Chief and all our folks, so I ask, mostly to myself what gives?
The government apparently is way too busy: they have elections, get people in, make promises, and then start campaigning for the next election. All the while misdirecting those of us who count on at least hearing something back, into blind alleys and dead end hallways where no ones lives and no one answers the door. What are they afraid of exactly?

So, we follow the AJR 39 mailing with one to the President of the United States himself: President Obama. Now the letter we sent him was 25 or so pages long with another 60 or so pages of attachments (I may be off a bit on the numbers but trust me - it was a lot).
Now I know, he ain't gonna read it, he may not even see it, but someone should look at it and address the issues it raised. Nothing about filing for recognition, nothing about restoration, it only asked for the government to make good on its promises to our people (all based on their own congressional act in 1941 - the CVP Indian Land Acquisition Act.

Well, let me tell you, it cost us that time to send out all the copies (Senators, Congressmen, Secretaries, assistant Secretaries and such.) Now remember, this was addressed to the President, a guy who all the Indians think walks on water and is the best thing since sliced bread and the folded napkin. He did not respond, not even one of those auto signed letters presidents are famous for (I have them from Bush2, and Nixon), no instead, we get a letter from Lee Fleming, the guy we have been shuttled to more times than the flight crews at Reagan get shuttled to the Holiday Inn. Know what his reply says? He says our petition (which we never filed and we discussed with him about 5 or 6 times now) has a deficiency letter and cannot be acted upon.

The letter, again, was a government to government complaint to the President. As a Sovereign we thought we would at least get a courtesy response from someone other than Mr. Fleming. Misdirection, misinformation and plain old idiocy in the district. If anyone knows anyone in Washington or who knows the new 'Skin admins, let them know that the unreckoned with are still here, we will always be here and our sense of direction will never be messed with by the masters of misdirection in DC.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

UPDATE: California, Winnemem Wintu: Prayer Day Ceremony

The Winnemem Wintu conducted the prayer day ceremony at the village for tribal members to pray for the preservation of our sacred places and to pray for a successful outcome to the lawsuit filed in April regarding harms committed by the government against the tribe and the destruction of sacred places within the McCloud River watershed.

When we entered our prayer house, we found the fire that we had lit prior to starting the War Dance, held in Sacramento in April of this year, almost completely out. Even though it has been tended and just the evening before stoked with wood to carry through the night, the fire was almost gone. We were, as you may imagine crestfallen and concerned that we had caused irreparable harm to the ceremony and our commitment made in 2004, by allowing the fire to die.

We began our effort to resuscitate the fire, and although finding a single, large coal, we were unable to bring life back to this sacred fire. We began to pray in deep humility for forgiveness and for a solution to what we perceived to be an event of great importance. For almost two hours in silent prayer, our Spiritual Leader prayed and gestured to the fire and those of us gathered in the prayer house. The temperature outside was over 90 degrees, but none of the people gathered did not say a word nor did any show any sign of discomfort. I sat, as I always do, on the right side of Caleen as she prayed, smoking our pipe and sending the prayers to the Creator. Finally, after sitting with her eyes closed all the time, Caleen spoke to me in our language, saying “light the fire with your pipe.”

Having just started another bowl, I went to the fire circle and, moving the earth to clear a spot, set down a small nest I made out of cedar bark fibers, stripped from our bark house. Setting this down, I puffed a few times on the pipe, inhaling a great lungful of smoke and gently tapped the contents of the bowl into the nest. Gesturing for Jamie, my nephew to assist me, I then blew the smoke and breath onto the tobacco embers and with Jamie’s added breath saw the nest catch fire and start to blaze. Quickly adding small sticks of manzanita, the fire grew and grew as we added larger and larger pieces, until the fire burned almost 2 feet high toward the smoke hole in the center ceiling of the house.

It was at this time we all noticed that a strong breeze was blowing outside and that it was raining – hard! Quickly putting the pipe down, Jamie, Jared and I went outside and began cutting long pieces of manzanita into fire size chunks and stacking them in the prayer house and in two large caches outside that we covered with tarps to keep dry. We worked about an hour, the rain steadily washing us until we finally had run out of gas and needed to sharpen our chain. I signaled the boys that this was it – the saw stopped, the rain stopped and the sun came out again, taking the temperature back up and causing steam to rise from the sopping ground around us.

What does all this mean? We asked Caleen and she explained that, as she sat there, the fire told her that we had asked for it to burn for sixty days; when we started our quest to war dance and file our lawsuit against the government. Yesterday was the 60th day since that request of the fire was made. That was why, even though we had a large coal that normally would have caught the twigs and cedar fibers on fire they did not. Caleen was told to have us use the pipe to start this new fire as a new beginning and with our breath, a connection of the people directly to the fire: new fire, new responsibilities but renewed understanding that we do not control the sacred things of our world. We can only ask for prayers and help from the Creator and this new fire is burning for what we asked when we started to go in yesterday: to pray for the preservation of our sacred places and to pray for a successful outcome to the lawsuit filed in April regarding harms committed by the government against the tribe and the destruction of sacred places within the McCloud River watershed, and also to include prayers for those Indigenous Peoples facing violence and the suppression of their voices by governments around the world.