The Winnemem Way of Life: Water

by December 20, 2008
 

For countless generations the Winnemem Wintu have lived along the McCloud River watershed, in what is now northern California.

Originally one of nine “Wintu” bands, the Winnemem view themselves as caretakers and protectors of water and all life – a task they accomplish through prayer, ceremony, songs, and dances.

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Before colonization the Winnemem numbered over 14,000 – however, due to a combination of disease, departure by members who abandoned their culture, and forced removal from their lands – today the Winnemem’s population is less than 150.

Hand-in-hand with thhis decline, the Winnemem have lost 90 percent of their traditional lands as a result of the Shasta Dam, which was completed in 1945.

“In 1937, the Bureau of Reclamation took 4,800 acres of allotted Winnemem land and hundreds of thousands of acres of communal tribal land to ?ood behind Shasta Dam,” explains the Winnemem’s website. “The people received nothing for their land,” despite numerous promises by the government to compensate them with similar landa, as well as funds to repair lost infrastructure.

In the 1960s things started to turn better for the Winnemem. The tribe received ‘federal recognition’ and began receiving tribal health, education and housing benefits. But then, apparently due to a ‘clerical error’, in 1985 the Winnemem were abruptly taken off the list of ‘federally recognized’ tribes and denied all further benefits.

Living on 42.5 acres, the Winnemen are still “unrecognized” today – still without rights — and, despite overwhelming odds, still fighting to maintain their traditional responsibility to protect water and all life.