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April 25, 2012

Randy Moore
Pacific Southwest Region
Regional Forester
1323 Club Drive
Vallejo, CA 94592

Dear Mr. Moore,

Thank you for meeting with Winnemem leader Caleen Sisk on Monday, April 16.

The Winnemem Wintu are a traditional tribe recognized by the state of California and by the U.S. Forest Service as the indigenous people of the McCloud River watershed. Since 2005, the Winnemem have asked representatives of the Forest Service to enforce a mandatory closure of a short 300-yard stretch of the McCloud River to boating and general access for four days at a time, in order to preserve the sanctity and safety of their women’s Coming of Age ceremony  – “Bałas Chonas.” The Forest Service has instead enacted a “voluntary closure,” which in the past has led to harassment, threats, and racial slurs from boaters traveling up and down the river during ceremony.

This year’s ceremony, which will take place June 30 thru July 3, is being held for the young woman who is training to become the next tribal leader. This means that there is added importance on maintaining the security and sanctity of the ceremony. Without closing the small portion of the river for this short period of time to general recreational access and casual boaters, will create an unsafe and tense situation for the community, and will put a young teenager, Marisa Sisk, through unnecessary trauma and anxiety.

The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples states: “Indigenous peoples have the right to practice and revitalize their cultural traditions and customs… the right to maintain, protect, and have access in privacy to their religious and cultural sites…” The American Indian Religious Freedom Act; and the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act also support the Winnemem’s request.

These various laws and articles provide clear legal and moral direction for ensuring the safety and sanctity of the Winnemem Balas Chonas ceremony with a mandatory river closing, and would enable the Winnemem Wintu to practice their traditional, cultural, spiritual customs in safety, free from molestation and interference. I urge you to abide by these laws and satisfy the needs of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe.




Tom Vilsack
Secretary of Agriculture
US Department of Agriculture
1400 Independence Ave., S.W.
Washington, DC 20250

Senator Diane Feinstein
U.S. Senate
331 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
Fax: 202-228-3954

Sharon Heywood
Forest Supervisor
Shasta-Trinity National Forest
3644 Avtech Parkway
Redding, CA 96002