AIM-West: Report back Winnemem Wintu mobilization
By Mark Anquoe, AIM-West
Photos by Marc Dadigan
Brothers and Sisters,
For those of you that did not join the caravan to the McCloud River, I'm pleased to report that the mobilization was a success. There were neither arrests nor injuries, and the Winnemem Wintu Balas Chonas ceremony was performed without significant disruption.
Originally, we intended to enforce a physical blockade across the McCloud River, taking a confrontational stance and risking arrest and injury. However, upon our arrival, we were asked by Headman Mark Franco to engage in different tactics than we had planned.
He informed us that this ceremony had actually been planned for the previous year, but had been postponed because the two young women undergoing the ceremony were afraid of a repeat of the intimidating and abusive behavior from the local non-Natives that the tribe experienced in 2006. Given this additional information, it was made clear to us that the confrontational tactics we had planned would interfere with the solemn and calm atmosphere that the young women needed to conduct the four-day Balas Chonas ceremony. Subsequently, we improvised a less confrontational, but still effective strategy of buffering the Winnemem Wintu people from any unnecessary interactions with the local non-Native population.
While we were asked to not physically immobilize any watercraft, we encountered very few boaters that would not turn back when asked. Those who refused to turn around were escorted on water by kayak and on foot on the riverbanks to ensure their respectful behavior and to prevent them from attempting to land at or near the ceremony site. Our team also secured a perimeter around the area to turn back hikers and campers using non-violent methods. We maintained the perimeter with 24hr/day watches for the entirety of the four-day ceremony.
While our AIM people did have to deal with a number of indignant and angry european americans, the Winnemem Wintu people were free to focus on their ceremony knowing that the situation was well-in-hand.
With temperatures climbing to 106 during the afternoons and a chronic lack of sleep, tensions and frustrations ran very high among all our crew. Nevertheless, it was worth every sacrifice made by our people. The Winnemem Wintu people continually expressed their gratitude to us and welcomed us into their circle to participate in prayer. Fred Short, one of the spiritual leaders of the American Indian Movement, joined us on Monday to encourage us and maintain morale.
Our 40 person team was composed of AIM members (as well as a few loyal supporters) from Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, San Francisco, Oakland, Davis, Pendleton and Portland. Everyone involved sacrificed their time, their sleep, and their sanity in addition to incurring significant financial expense.
We are all profoundly grateful to the Winnemem Wintu for inviting us onto their land and bringing us into their circle.
We are also grateful to Resist Inc (http://resistinc.org/), who supported our effort with a small grant to help defray travel expenses and to our generous donors in San Francisco, you know who you are. We are also grateful to our AIM members who supported us from home in all their various capacities. You are an integral part of our efforts.
I am personally humbled to be associated with a group of individuals that would choose to give of themselves so deeply for such a cause. Through this exhausting effort, old bonds were renewed and new alliances forged. I believe that the experience has inspired all of us to redouble our collective and individual efforts to defend our people, our beliefs and our land.