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Tribal Rights Gain Support From Local CLDC

The Winnemem Wintu tribe of Northern California has tried for years to perform their traditional coming of age ceremony in peace on the McCloud River, but they are often met with drunken boaters who shout and disregard the location’s sanctity. This year Eugene’s Civil Liberties Defense Center (CLDC) is trying to help.

During the coming of age ceremony girls from the tribe swim across the river, symbolizing childhood being left behind. On June 30 through July 3, the tribe plans on holding its coming of age ceremony, which is of utmost importance because the future chief will be taking part this year. Members of the traditional matriarchal tribe have tried to reserve a 400-yard stretch of the McCloud River, which stretches alongside the Sacramento River, but have not received an official reservation from the U.S. Forest Service. 

The tribe has been left with no other option than to proceed with the ceremony without a blocked-off area. The CLDC has partnered with the tribe to address any issues that may arise during the ceremony this year. “We are advising them regarding civil disobedience that they may end up engaging in,” says Lauren Regan, director and staff attorney for the CLDC. “We are doing know-your-rights training, we’re organizing legal observers, [and] we’re assisting them in dealing with various law enforcement.”

The Forest Service excuse for not allowing the river closure, according to Regan, is that the tribe is not a federally registered tribe. She adds, at one point the tribe was offered federal recognition if they built a casino. “They adamantly refused to do that,” she says.

The CLDC and other organizations up and down the West Coast are planning to go down and support the tribe on June 30 in solidarity.

“They really have no other option,” Regan says. “They call it cultural genocide and they believe if they don’t stand up and resist it at this point they will be exterminated completely.”

Tribe officials have asked for supporters to use kayaks and boats to block off the 400 yard stretch for this year’s ceremony to take place. On June 2 a war dance held by the tribe went well and a practice run involving a closure of the stretch of riverfront went smoothly. 

For those interested in traveling down and lending support, email info@cldc.org