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The Flooding of Winnemem Wintu Tribe Sacred Sites

By Lina Gilliland
Special to the Epoch Times
Dec 01, 2005

SAN FRANCISCO—The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is soliciting public input through the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) on a proposal to raise Shasta Dam on the Sacramento and McCloud Rivers.

The Bureau is proposing to raise the dam by adding nearly 19 feet of concrete on top of the current structure, thus enlarging the reservoir behind the dam. Their aim is to increase a reliable supply of water and retain more cold water for salmon.

However, the enlarged reservoir would only reliably provide less than 146,000 acre feet of water annually. The proposal is the latest in a long line of difficulties for the Winnemem Wintu Tribe.

The Winnemem Wintu Tribe, who lost their homeland under the Shasta Dam in 1945, would be directly affected if the dam is raised, flooding the last of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe's sacred sites on the McCloud River.

The tribe is making efforts to speak out against the dam raising. The Winnemem Wintu Tribe recently brought tribal members to San Francisco to attend the unveiling of a mural called, "We sing to water." According to a tribal press release, the mural is a monument to the ongoing campaign against the proposed raise of Shasta Dam, and the struggles to protect cultural, historic and natural resources.

The mural, created by Evan Bissell and Claude Moller, depicts Winnemem Wintu tribal members at a ceremonial war dance on Shasta Dam in Northern California last year.

The unveiling took place on Nov. 26 in San Francisco to highlight threats to the Winnemem and the struggles to protect California resources and cultural heritage.

During the unveiling ceremony and celebration on Thanksgiving Day weekend, Winnemam Wintu War Dancers dressed in full regalia danced and prayed for their survival in the face of the delta ecosystem crashes and the potential dam raise.

Lead muralist Claude Moller said, "The mural was a cooperative project between San Francisco artists fighting gentrification and the Winnemem Wintu tribe who are fighting displacement from their homeland."

Said Caleen Sisk-Franco, spiritual and tribal leader for the Winnemem, "We have to give the river a voice. We have to give the fish a voice. The sacred places need to be protected."

The Winnemem have already paid a hefty price for California's use of dams. The tribe lost 90 percent of their ancestral land when the Shasta Dam was originally built. Promises made to create a tribal cemetery held in trust and to replace the lands lost have not yet been fulfilled, and traditional food sources, salmon, were decimated by the construction of the dam.

The Winnemem Wintu is not a federally recognized tribe with no sovereign nation status, leaving it out of the Bureau investigation process, and after four years of meeting with Bureau officials, investigative documents issued by NEPA make no mention of the tribe and the potential losses they face.