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Location: Redding, CA, United States

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

2001 Letter from Florence regarding Recognition

I was going through some old letters Grams had wanted us to send and this one from 2001 stuck out like a sore thumb. Seems like in the past 10 years we would have been able to garner enough support to have our continually elected "representatives" move our case forward. These are the same concerns written of in the 1889 letter to President Benjamin Harrison. I present it to you again.

Florence V. Jones, Spiritual Leader of the Traditional Winnemem Band of Wintu Indians.  This statement made to announce her feelings regarding the recognition of the Traditional Winnemem Band of Wintu by the U.S. Government.

Florence V. Jones believes that the Winnemem Wintu people are in need of protection for their sacred sites and for the perpetuation of their ceremonies and traditional ways.  She has always indicated that the Winnemem Wintu have been led by “hand me down to hand me down” through the generations to her and her successor and great niece, Caleen Sisk-Franco.  Florence is a direct descendent of the last great chiefs of the Winnemem Wintu: Norelputis, Dolikentilema (her grand father), Dolikentilema (her father William Curl), Jenny Curl, herself and now Caleen Sisk-Franco.

It is for this reason that Florence feels it important to state her opinion of the status of the Winnemem Wintu and their continued struggle for recognition.  Primarily, Florence believes that all Wintu are “her people” This includes those Wintu far to the south and to the west of the McCloud River.  However, she also believes that the times have changed and with the state of the country as it is each group should decide how they operate and survive in the current world.  She continues to pray for all the Wintu, but believes that her ceremonies and her sacred places need to have a special protection that only separate recognition for the Traditional Winnemem Band of Wintu will be able to secure.

Over the past 12 years, Florence has directed the keepers of her ceremony to take on several challenges.  The first of these was in 1990 when she directed Caleen Sisk-Franco to undergo a fast on the site of the Toyon-Wintu Center to attain recognition.  This fast lasted 21 days, brought the issue of the Wintu as a whole to the attention of the United States government, and generated assurances that a remedy would soon follow. 

This fast preceded her directive for the Winnemem to contact the timber company, Sierra Pacific Industries, to obtain easements to allow access and protection to sacred sites on Salt Mountain (aka Cold Spring Mountain) for the Traditional Winnemem Wintu.  The keepers of her ceremony, with the legal assistance of Claire Cummings, succeeded in this task and hold easements in the name of the Winnemem Wintu for those sites.

In 1993, Florence again directed her ceremony keepers to undergo a fast, again for recognition and the restoration of health benefits for the Winnemem band and the general Wintu population at large.  This fast begun by Mark Franco and Richard Wilson, occurred simultaneously with a trip made by Florence, Caleen and a contingent of Wintu people to Washington DC where she spoke with Ada Deer, then assistant secretary of the Interior for Indian Affairs.  This trip again was for the benefit of the Winnemem and the general Wintu.  Upon obtaining assurances from the government that our health care programs remained intact, Florence cancelled the fast.

In 1998, Florence directed her successors to increase their efforts for recognition of the Winnemem.  This followed the deaths of our elders: Emerson Miles, Calvin Sisk, Leona Barnes and others.  Since that time, we have diligently performed our tasks making numerous trips nationwide in an attempt to obtain recognition for the Winnemem and the general Wintu people.

Florence is now 93 years old.  She has again been our beacon of strength and our direction.  She has now told us to work for the Winnemem Wintu as a separate Traditional band.  This is our charge and our direction.

Florence has told us to pursue the following course of action:

  1. Separate from the people who do not carry the traditions, attend ceremony or attend to the sacred places.  The direction she receives from Olelbes has indicated that this is necessary to preserve the lineage of spiritual leaders and the connection they have to all the sacred sites of the Winnemem.
  2. Direct our attention to the management of our lands in the best way that will preserve them in the face of economic and societal change.
  3. Maintain the ceremonies for the Winnemem and bring our young people up in the spirituality of the Winnemem Wintu, forsaking allegiance to other religions and faiths: Winnemem is the faith of her people.
  4. Direct the operations of the Traditional Winnemem Band of Wintu in the traditional way, meaning that the Traditional Winnemem will follow the “hand me down to hand me down” line of succession for leadership.  This is the cause for her to wish our separation.  The traditional way of leadership does not set well with many people.  Those who do not follow the traditional way cannot be leaders of those who do.

At our Spring Ceremony along the McCloud River, Florence told the people “Those who do not believe in (her) the Winnemem way, should leave, and go over the hill.”  She told us all that it is time for the Winnemem to move forward, not for her, but for the little ones who are there to assume their places in the traditional Winnemem world.  She believes that all Wintu bands deserve recognition and indicates that we will all work for the better good, however, the Winnemem must move in the direction the spiritual have indicated.

It is for this reason we write to you, the people of the United States and ask your help.  We need your support to re-affirm our tribal status.  Please write to California’s legislators - Congressman Wally Herger, Senator Barbara Boxer, and Senator Diane Feinstein.  Let them know that we are not alone in this country and that you hear our voice. It is with your help that we may go forward.

Under One Sky,

Mark Franco                            Caleen Sisk-Franco                      Florence V. Jones