Drought Relief Bill Threatens to Drown Sacred Sites of a Northern California Tribe

Truthout, August 26, 2015, By Rucha Chitnis

"The McCloud River gurgles and gushes down the Cascade Range, gathering streams from the towering Mount Shasta, a mountain of mythic and sacred symbolism to many. The river pours down three waterfalls over basaltic lava flows, where Chinook salmon once heroically jumped up the falls to spawn and propagate. This August, members of the Winnemem Wintu tribe gathered for their annual 'salmon challenge,' an effort to trace the path of their revered fish as it once swam its way up the McCloud River. The venerated salmon are long gone: The Shasta Dam's construction in 1944 framed a permanent deleterious barrier, and the salmon were unable to reach their spawning grounds upstream to regenerate as they had for millennia.

'We are a salmon state. We believe that whatever happens to the salmon, happens to us,' said Chief Caleen Sisk, tribal and spiritual leader of the Winnemem Wintu, a tribe of 125. 'Shasta Dam destroyed the homes of the salmon. The dam also drowned our homes and sacred sites, and we were left homeless like the salmon.'

The Winnemem have survived a violent history and legacy of colonization, diseases and dispossession. During the California Gold Rush, according to Pratap Chatterjee's Gold, Greed and Genocide: Unmasking the Myth of the '49ers, the US government paid bounty hunters to kill Native Americans - $5 for a head in some instances - which decimated their population and drove them off their land. The Winnemem estimate that they had some 15,000 members before colonial contact. By 1910, their numbers had dwindled to 395. ..."


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