By Levi Rickert, editor-in-chief in Native Challenges, cross-posted from Native News Network
REDDING, CALIFORNIA – The Winnemem Wintu Tribe women’s “Balas Chonas Ceremony” or “Coming of Age” Ceremony is a transition for girls to become young women.
This year Marisa Sisk, 17, was the only tribal member to make the transition to adulthood. She swam across the river close to 8:00 pm to conclude her transition.
For her aunt, Caleen Sisk, chief of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe, it was a bittersweet occasion.
It was a joyous occasion because her daughter fulfilled the requirements passed down by the women elders of the Tribe. It was bitter because on the day after the ceremonies concluded, Chief Sisk was cited by the US Forest Service on the morning of the Fourth of July.
Now that she has been cited by the US Forest Service, Chief Sisk now faces the prospect she will be fined up to $5,000 and jailed up to six months.
The Tribe’s Balas Chonas Ceremony is a four day ceremony along the east and west side of the McCloud River in the Shasta Trinity National Forest in northern California.
The Ceremony consists of dancing, teachings by women elders and swimming across the McCloud River.
Chief Sisk was cited for two alleged violations: Operating a boat in restricted waters and violation of a special permit. She actually never operated the boat, but as the leader of the Tribe, she is responsible according to the US Forest Service.
The boat was used to transport elderly women from the Tribe who provided teachings to Marisa across the McCloud River.
“It was surprising that the US Forest Service used the river closure against us, the very Tribe the order was for. It is clear that we were not protected by the order, even though we told them we needed the boats for our safety and to be used in ceremony,”
commented Chief Sisk on Friday to the Native News Network.
What is surprising is the fact the Chief Sisk and Forester Randy Moore, US Forest Service Region 5, had worked out an arrangement for closure of the McCloud River. The Tribe had previously protested the US Forest Service’s Region 5 office in Vallejo, California this past April because they sought closure of the McCloud River during the Coming of Age Ceremonies.
What the district US Forest rangers at the ceremonies used was Part II, Section 6 of the Special-Use Permit:
“The holder shall comply with all federal, state, county, and municipal laws, ordinances, and regulations which are applicable to the area or operations covered by this permit.”
“The citation was for the boat that was used in an unauthorized area. The river was closed to all boats,”
commented John Heil, III, press officer for the Pacific Southwest Region, US Forest Service to the Native News Network on Friday.
“Our law enforcement officers are responsible to keep people safe and make sure laws are followed,”
Chief Sisk was cited on the Fourth of July, the day after the Coming of Age Ceremonies concluded, out of respect for the ceremonies, according to Heil.
“The district forest rangers disrupted the ceremonies. Actually I would say they violated the ceremonies. They used harassment tactics throughout the ceremonies,”
stated Gary Hayward Slaughter Mulcahy, governmental liaison for the Winnemem Wintu Tribe.
Part of the harassment included an ongoing ticketing of parked cars by the district forest rangers, according to Corine Fairbanks, who headed up the security detail during the ceremonies.
The district forest rangers caused long delays during the ceremonies, according to Mulcahy.
A court date was not determined for Chief Sisk to respond at press time.