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In 1941 Winnemem Wintu land that would be flooded by Lake Shasta had been taken under three provisions. The Wintu were to receive “like land” to that they had lost, a cemetery to re-bury their dead and money to rebuild. By 2014, none of the promises had been fulfilled. And worse. In 1986 the Wintu also were excluded from federal recognition as a bonified Indian tribe.
As the Winnemem Wintu began fighting for the compensation of their losses as well as federal recognition a new threat emerged. Plans to raise the Shasta Dam are well underway and such a dam raise would submerge another 1.5 miles of the McCloud river including the ceremonial sites that the Wintu have used for thousands of years.
Today the Winnemem Wintu are among the most eloquent opponents of the project to raise the Shasta Dam and also the strongest supporters of the return of the salmon that used to run so thick in the McCloud, Sacramento and Pit Rivers that horses were afraid to wade through the churning waters.
The Winnemem Wintu are taking on the most powerful institutions of the day: From the corporations that buy and control water, the Agribusinesses that bribe politicians for access to water and the current state agencies and government that want to dramatically increase the water transfer from Northern California to the deserts of the South by building the Delta Twin Tunnels. The current 2013/14 drought is being used to sell the project to the public – who will have to pay for it. However that water is already earmarked for agribusiness and for the oil companies that want to use it for fracking.
I met and recorded Caleen Sisk, the chief of the Winnemem Wintu, on April 19, 2014 at a Ukiah, CA, meeting on SALMON AND SOVEREIGNTY: Indigenous perspectives on water and cultural survival in California