McCloud River Indians to hold WAR DANCE at Shasta Dam
The Winnemem (McCloud River) Wintu Tribe have called for a "War Dance" to be held at Shasta Dam, north of Redding, California, beginning September 12th through September 16th. The tribe is alarmed by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation's proposal to raise the dam because they lost much of their homelands, and their salmon, when the dam was first constructed. The last time the Winnemem invoked the War Dance was in 1887 when a fish hatchery on the McCloud River was the enemy and protecting the salmon and the Wintu way of life was the focus.
The Winnemem (McCloud River) Wintu Tribe have called for a "War Dance" to be held at Shasta Dam, north of Redding, California, beginning September 12th through September 16th. The tribe is
alarmed by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation's proposal to raise the dam because they lost much of their homelands, and their salmon, when the dam was first constructed. "Any raising of the dam, even a few feet, will flood some of our last remaining sacred sites on the McCloud River," sites we still use today," says Caleen Sisk-Franco, Winnemem Spiritual and Tribal Leader. "Village sites, burial grounds, and ceremonial grounds will all be lost forever," she continued.
The last time the Winnemem invoked the War Dance was in 1887 when a fish
hatchery on the McCloud River was the enemy and protecting the salmon and
the Wintu way of life was the focus. One hundred seventeen years later the
specter of Shasta Dam, already an implement of destruction to the Winnemem,
looms large. Again, the Wintu are under siege. "We prayed on it. On what it
was we were supposed to do about the raising of the dam and we were told to
hold a war dance," said Sisk - Franco. "Our ancestors showed the way with
the dance against the fish hatchery and this is the path that was shown to
us. We gave up a lot of our homeland for the sake of the California people,
and got nothing in return. Now you want to take our sacred places, and again
we get nothing in return. How is this fair, over and over again? This is not
right," she said. "This is too much to ask of a people."
When Shasta Dam was first proposed, Congress passed a law authorizing the
federal government to take the lands and burial grounds that the Winnemem
had for a thousand years. Promises were made to the tribe that still have
not been kept. The Tribe is asking that the BOR resolve these long standing
debts before proceeding with its studies. The Tribe also wants the BOR, as
part of the ongoing CALFED process, to increase water storage and meet
California's growing thirst, to study alternatives to raising the dam such
as better management practices for the existing reservoir and conservation
options, as well as better protection of the fish populations. But the most
important issue is the threat that raising the dam poses to the cultural
resources along the McCloud River, sites that are eligible for listing on
the National Register of Historic Places as Traditional Cultural Properties.
At risk are burial grounds that include the victims of the massacre at
Kaibai (KÓ - bay) Creek, Puberty Rock, where the young women's coming of age
ceremonies are held, and Children's Rock, where the young ones place their
hands for blessings to make them good people and help them understand and
magnify whatever special gifts they hold, said Mark Franco, Headman of the
tribe's Kerekmet Village.
FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT THE HISTORY OF THE WINNEMEM, THE 1887 WAR DANCE,
THE IMPORTANCE OF THE MC CLOUD RIVER CULTURAL SITES AND THE CURRENT ISSUES
OVER THE RAISING OF SHASTA DAM, VISIT THE WINNEMEM WINTU TRIBE WEB SITE AT
www.winnememwintu.us . FOR MORE INFORMATION ON THE PRESS CONFERENCE,
INTERVIEWS, or PHOTOGRAPHY - CALL Charlotte Berta - Cell: 916-207-2378
ALSO: Mark Franco, Headman of Kerekmet Village, Caleen Sisk-Franco (530)
275-2737 On September 12, 2004 at a site near Shasta Dam, just before dusk,
a sacred ceremonial fire will be lit, a drum will beat, a song will begin,
the fast will start, and an ancient dance will be under way. For the next 4
days, the fire, the drum, the songs and the dance will carry the prayers of
the Winnemem people. The dance is being held under a permit issued by The
Bureau of Reclamation. (BOR) The Tribe has held several meetings with the
BOR to raise questions about the feasibility of the BOR's plans, the impacts
it will have on the tribe and their way of life, and the troubled history
between the tribe and the BOR.
Winnemem Wintu war dance to be conducted at Shasta Dam on September 12
This is a preliminary and informal notice and invitation to join a native
American effort to stop the raising of Shasta dam. Please let us know if you
want more information or if you can help in some way.
The Winnemem Wintu tribe will be doing a war dance at Shasta Dam to protest
any further damage to the McCloud River and the raising of Shasta Dam. The
war dance, which has not been done since the 1880's, is a four day ceremony
where our young people and dancers fast, pray and dance for 24 hours a day
for four days. It begins on Sunday September
12 and goes to the 16th. The tribe was just given a permit by the Bureau of
Reclamation to do the dance at the dam, even though the dam is under
heightened security restrictions.
When Shasta dam was built in the 1930's Congress made promises to the
Winnemen but those promises have not been kept. Now they want to take more.
For more information on the Winnemen - which means "middle water" and refers
to the Mc Cloud River - look at our web site. We will have more information
about the war dance on the site soon. http://www.winnememwintu.us/
We are inviting other native, environmental, and social justice groups to
join us or support us in our effort to protect our homelands from further
innundation. Julia Butterfly Hill and members of her Circle of Life
organization will be there to support us and other tribal dancers have been
invited. We hope you will be there with us, in spirit at least.
Please let us know if you are interested. We will be sending our more
information in early September. We will have a petition and other action
items for you to consider. You can support us by coming, by sending
donations for food and water for the dancer's and their support team, or by
spreading the word about our ceremony to your colleagues and including our
story when you talk to the press about outdated notions about how more
plumbing, like raising Shasta Dam, will not solve California's water
Our prayers will be telling the river that we are keeping our ancient
covenant to protect it and to continue our lifeways which include protecting
the fish and our sacred sites along the river. We welcome your participation
in our "river dance."
Please contact Claire Cummings for details and how you can help
EDITORIAL: Dam's security rules should not be set in concrete
August 26, 2004
Their specialty is hydrology, not anthropology, but can Bureau of
Reclamation officials really not tell the difference between Islamic
terrorists and Indian dancers?
The Winnemem Indians want to hold a four-day ceremony -- a war dance, to be
precise, though their intentions are peaceful -- next month at Shasta Dam
but are butting against the limits on access in place since the Sept. 11,
2001, terrorist attacks.
Rather than dancing and fasting nearly nonstop, the Indians would have to
leave the area from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. A ceremonial fire would have to be
confined to a barbecue pit. Any clubs, arrows or lances among the
traditional regalia would be forbidden. The ceremony was planned to run from
Sept. 10 through Sept. 13, but the bureau says the day of Sept. 11 is
And just to let everyone know they're serious, Reclamation officials
published the Shasta Dam security restrictions Wednesday in the Federal
Register. The official closure order only formalizes the practices in effect
since 2001, but it allows officers to cite trespassers. Do you suppose they
had anyone in mind?
The Indians are hardly alone in facing the nettlesome restrictions.
Off-roaders, mountain bikers and admirers of the wonders of engineering have
either been kept away from the dam or forced to somersault through flaming
hoops to reach recreation spots or snap innocent photographs.
The threat of terrorism is real, and Reclamation officials are certainly
right to guard against the prospect of millions of acre-feet of water
suddenly flooding downstream if the dam were somehow breached in an attack.
The free access that residents used to enjoy will probably never return, but
bending the rules in this case would do no harm.
Someone would certainly gripe about Indians' receiving special treatment,
but there is a huge difference between permitting unfettered everyday dam
crossings and allowing a small tribe to camp out at the picnic grounds and
conduct a ceremony so rare that it hasn't been held since 1887. It's hard to
imagine prayerful people flocking to the site and causing a permanent
The war dance is a protest against the bureau's long-term plans to increase
the height of Shasta Dam by a few feet. The project seems inevitable no
matter what the Winnemem think, but the federal government must fairly deal
with tribe's fears about the flooding of what it considers sacred places.
One way to show good faith would be to allow a one-time ceremony.
Shasta Dam's concrete has lasted for nearly six decades. Surely it can
withstand the force of a peaceful protest.
add a comment on this article
add a comment on this article