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Who are the Winnemem Wintu?

The Winnemem Wintu have been fighting cultural genocide for over a century now. The latest threat they are up against is the Bureau of Reclamation’s proposal to raise Shasta dam, which would cover up much of the people’s surviving sacred sites vital to the preservation of their cultural traditions. 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. By flooding sites such as Puberty Rock, where young Winnemem women have their coming of age ceremony, the Bureau of Reclamation would add onto the burden of environmental injustices the Tribe faces today.

The Winnemem have already paid a hefty price for California’s dam obsession. The Winnemem Wintu lost 90 percent of their ancestral land when the Shasta Dam was originally built. The government never fulfilled its promises to create a tribal cemetery held in trust and to replace the lands lost due to the construction of the dam. Additionally, the Tribe’s traditional food source, salmon, were decimated when the river’s natural flows were blocked.

The Bureau of Reclamation has capitalized on the fact that the Winnemem Wintu are not a federally recognized Tribe. The Tribe is not treated as its own sovereign nation, and has been left out of the Bureau investigation process. Even after 4 years of meeting with Bureau officials, the first documents put out in the investigation continue to overlook the impacts upon the Winnemem Wintu Tribe.

The Winnemem are in a state of emergency right now with a number of their sacred sites in jeopardy – not only from flooding by the raising of the Shasta dam, but also by continued erosion of the Tribe’s rights to access their sacred sites.

In 2004, the Winnemem held H'up Chonas, a war dance, on Shasta Dam. It was the first war dance in 100 years and they were protesting the Bureau of Reclamation's plans to raise the Shasta Dam anywhere from 6 to 200 feet.

Read about the Winnemem Wintu's Puberty Ceremony, a coming of age ceremony held in fully in July of 2006 for the first time in 85 years!

Conflict of Cultures: The Puberty Ceremony

Protecting all water: Saving McCloud’s Groundwater

Learn more about the Winnemem Wintu and their struggle

ABC Local news coverage of the Winnemem's annual ceremony:


Who are the Winnemem Wintu?

The Winnemem Wintu are a tribe from Northern California. Their traditional homelands lie along the McCloud River.

For more about the tribe, visit www.winnememwintu.us

Resources on the Winnemem Wintu:

Read EJCW's community profile of the issues facing the Winnemem Wintu.

Read Natural Resource Defense Council's resolution on support for the Winnemem Wintu.

Words from Michael Preston, Winnemem Wintu Tribal member

Is raising the Shasta dam really necessary? Does California really need all the water that would be gained from the raise? Or is it just another way for a small group of rich people to get richer….The majority of the water stored behind the dam will go to Central Valley industrial agricultural users. These corporate interests and agencies convince people that we are in dire need of this water supply, even though California’s water problems stem from greed and racism, not scarcity. It seems like this country is like a runaway train with the conductor being corporate greed and us passengers have no say in the decisions made in this country supposedly ran by the people. It seems that anything is possible….even stopping the Bureau of Reclamation from raising Shasta Dam and saving a whole people from the history books

The Winnemem Wintu are not asking for special treatment, just to save lands always belonging to them, not to mention justice for over a hundred years of broken promises and injustices perpetrated on them. We are fighting to stave off extinction. This kind of story is not unique to the Native American world, it is just one that the Tribe and organizations are shedding a little light on for others to see.