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Indybay FeatureRelated Categories: California | Central Valley | North Coast | Environment & Forest Defense | Government & Elections | Racial Justice | Womyn
Winnemem-Wintu: Protecting Women's Rights of Passage
Caleen Sisk-Franco, Chief and Spiritual Leader of the Winnemem-Wintu discusses the Balas Chonas or Puberty Ceremony-which honors a girls transition into womanhood, her decision to declare war against the U.S. government, and her tribes work to return indigenous salmon to the McCloud River, for International Women's Day.
The Winnemem-Wintu, "Middle Water People" are a small tribe of California Native Americans. The U.S. Government relocated them from their land during World War 2 to build the Shasta Dam. After nearly 80 years, under the leadership of Caleen Sisk-Franco, Spiritual Leader and Chief of the Winnemem-Wintu the tribe has returned to the McCloud river, near Shasta Dam to revive the Puberty Ceremony. "Balas Chonas" in Wintu marks a girls transition into womanhood.
For 3 days and nights, men sing and dance on one side of a river, while the women, pass on traditions to girls on the other side, defining the difference between girls and women. But holding a ceremony on stolen land can be a challenge. The U.S. government has not granted the Wintu's requests to access their ancestral land in privacy and the Wintu say a federal plan to raise the Shasta Dam would flood their remaining sacred land.
The ceremony is held with recreational boaters driving by, and camping as the tribe works to hold it's right of passage. Under the guidance of their Chief and Spiritual Leader, Caleen Sisk Franco, the Winnemem-Wintu declared war on the U.S. government in 004, have since sued the federal government to protect their rights and their ancestral land, and is working to return indigenous salmon to the McCloud River watershed. Caleen Sisk Franco says preserving the Puberty Ceremony is preserving their way of life.