The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

Winnemem Wintu tribe travel to New Zealand

On March 28, two dozen members of the Winnemem Wintu tribe traveled across the Pacific Ocean to New Zealand. The tribe, which is native to California, went to participate in a four-day ceremony to urge the Chinook salmon back to California’s coast.The Chinook salmon is native to the Pacific, according to The New York Times, but their numbers have declined. The ritual the Winnemem performed was an apology. A dam built on the Sacramento River (built by the US government during the New Deal), blocked salmon runs, which the tribe believes broke a sacred covenant with the fish.

“Most tribes believe in a creator who made things,” said sophomore Justin Big Hair, a Plains Indian, in an e-mail interview. “We believe the animals are close to us. Animals also provide food to us, so we respect them.”

The Winnemem are a poor tribe of about 30 members, all of whom live in trailers. Their residence also has horses, dogs, and a traditional bark house for ceremonies. Due to a clerical error and a change in bureau policy, the tribe is not federally recognized by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

In 1852, Congress refused to ratify a treaty that would make the 35 square-miles where Winnemem now live an official Indian reservation.

The trip to New Zealand began with a vision. According to Sisk-Franco, the spirits came into the open air meeting room.

“And they said, ‘You’ve got to get it done,'” said Sisk-Franco to The New York Times.

In order to make the trek to New Zealand, the tribe needed to raise $60,000. Facebook was one method; and the Winnemen also sold trinkets and asked richer tribes for help.

According to the Winnemem’s Web site, when asked if they want to build a casino to raise money, the tribe answered that they do not believe in gambling or casinos because “the Winnemem consider Indian gaming inconsistent with their traditional beliefs and culture.”

For the ceremony, the tribe checked bows and arrows, spears, and sacred water onto the plane to New Zealand. They also packed their ceremonial drum. However, they were not allowed to take their hawk, woodpecker, or vulture feathers. The ritual did not seem affected.

Certain tribes use traditional rituals during times of need.

“For example I’m a Plains Indian,” said Big Hair. “Most Plains natives have this ritual called the Sundance which involves a buffalo head and fasting without water and food for four days. We also have pow-wows.”

Once in New Zealand, the tribe met with Maori leaders, New Zealand’s indigenous population. Their society disintegrated in the 18th century because of the weapons and diseases brought by the British. They also lost a large portion of their land.

The ceremony for the Winnmemen, according to The New York Times, included a “middle water salmon dance” on the bank of the Rakaia River. The dance had not been performed in over 60 years.

The tribe has a history of using rituals in order to achieve socio-environmental ends. In 2004, the tribe performed a four-day war dance to prevent the raising of the Shasta Dam, which if raised, would flood the last remains of their land. In the end, the dam was not raised. The Winnemen also protested the initial building of the dam 40 years ago to protect the salmon population.

The tribe is also trying to bring some fish eggs back to California. Although they believe that praying will help, the tribe wants to do everything they can to get their fish thriving again. “We must follow through,” Sisk-Franco told The New York Times.

When asked if he thinks the ceremony will work, Big Hair responded, “I think it might work. I’m not certain. It’s worth a try.

Leave a Comment
More to Discover

Comments (0)

The Guilfordian intends for this area to be used to foster healthy, thought-provoking discussion. Comments are expected to adhere to our standards and to be respectful and constructive. As such, we do not permit the use of profanity, foul language, personal attacks, or the use of language that might be interpreted as libelous. Comments are reviewed and must be approved by a moderator to ensure that they meet these standards. The Guilfordian does not allow anonymous comments, and requires a valid email address. The email address will not be displayed but will be used to confirm your comments.
All The Guilfordian Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *