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Preserving sacred tribal land

March 9, 2005

Image of a map showing traditional Winnemem Wintu territory near Shasta LakeWhile much media attention has been devoted to California's water and energy crises, the Sacred Land and Water Symposium, hosted by SFSU's American Indian Studies Department, aimed to shed light on the impact these issues have on Native American tribes.

On Tuesday, March 1, students, faculty and staff gathered in Humanities 133 to hear Native Americans' land and water concerns in a panel discussion featuring Caleen Sisk-Franco, the spiritual and political leader of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe, Ann Marie Sayers, an advocate for the rights of her Mutsun Ohlone Tribe, and Hopi activist Vernon Masayesva.

The symposium ended with a screening of the PBS award-winning documentary, "In the Light of Reverence." Produced by the Sacred Land Film Project, the film explores how Native Americans across the country contend with the likes of mining companies, New Age practitioners and rock climbers in a quest to protect their sacred land.

Moderator Melissa Nelson, professor of American Indian Studies and a member of the Turtle Mountain Chippewa Tribe, stressed the importance of making the speakers' voices heard: "Today water is more expensive than gasoline, and it's getting more and more precious, but indigenous people are left out of the discussion of how to protect it."

The symposium helped kick off a campaign opposing a CalFed proposal to raise the Shasta Dam, located on the Sacramento River, twelve miles above Redding, California -- a move which threatens to submerge sacred sites of the Winnemem or "middle water" people who have lived along the McCloud River arm of the dam for the past 2,000 years.

The audience got a close-up look at the Winnemem people in "The Winnemem War Dance at Shasta Dam," a film capturing the war dance ceremony Sisk-Franco's tribe held last September in protest of raising the dam.

CalFed's planned extension of six feet or more stands to increase the state's water supply, but raising it as few as three feet would also submerge areas where sacred tribal ceremonies take place, said Winnemem Wintu leader Sisk-Franco. Her tribe has mounted a major effort to stop the proposed raising of the dam, calling upon the public to contact both Senator Dianne Feinstein and Secretary Gale Norton of the U.S. Department of the Interior before a final decision is made in 2006.

Nelson is the executive director of the Cultural Conservancy, one of more than a dozen environmental organizations participating in the campaign to help the Winnemem Wintu make their voices heard. The non-profit organization works with tribes nationwide to protect ancestral land, language, stories and songs. American Indian studies lecturer Philip Klasky is a project director for the organization.

-- Adrianne Bee
Image: Courtesy of Earth Island Institute's Sacred Land Film Project


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