WINNEMEM WINTU TRIBE SUES FEDERAL AGENCIES, OFFICIALS
Court Filing Prefaced by Ceremonial War Dance, March and Capitol Rally
For more information, contact Jamie Moss, newsPRos, 201-493-1027 or Brad Wise, 510-466-6229
(April 20, 2008, Sacramento, CA) – The Winnemem Wintu, a traditional California Tribe, filed a Complaint in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California Monday against six federal agencies and two current federal agency heads alleging their actions have resulted in the destruction or damage to the Tribe’s cultural sites in Shasta County, California. The Winnemem are seeking declaratory and injunctive relief, as well as monetary damages.
The Tribe held a Rally at the State Capitol at noon to call attention to the filing of its longstanding grievances against the federal government that began with the construction of Shasta Dam and continues to this day. This event followed three-days of intensive tribal preparation that included ceremonial prayers and fires, including a ceremonial war dance Sunday night and Monday morning. It is the culmination of the ceremony begun in 2004 at Shasta Dam.
“We are a traditional people and have continued our traditional ways throughout the written history of the state of California,” said Caleen Sisk-Franco, the Tribe’s spiritual leader. “We hope this lawsuit and War Dance will protect our basic quality of life and ensure our freedom to maintain our traditions and culture.”
California Assembly Members Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael) and Fiona Ma (D-San Francisco) addressed the rally at noon. Immediately following, Jayne Fleming, Pro Bono Counsel and Human Rights Team Leader at Reed Smith LLP, one of the 15 largest law firms in the world, addressed the Tribe and its supporters at the noon event. Finally, Caleen Sisk-Franco addressed the rally.
The Winnemem and its members are represented pro bono in the court case by a team of attorneys from Reed Smith led by partner James C. Martin. Other members of the team include Heather B. Hoesterey, Cheryl B. Kahn, Eugenia S. Chern and Kevin L. Jayne.
According to Ms. Fleming, “numerous federal laws and policies require federal agencies to consider environmental and cultural values when they assess proposed government projects. These laws also require federal agencies to consult with and fully disclose all the relevant information about their proposed actions to potentially affected individuals, as well as to use all possible means to preserve important historic, cultural and natural aspects of our national heritage. In dealing with the Winnemem, the defendants have blatantly ignored and violated these requirements, and they continue to do so, to the detriment of the Winnemem’s history and culture.”
Defendants include the U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Reclamation, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service; and U.S. Department of Agriculture, as well as the current Secretary of the Interior Kenneth Salazar and the current Secretary of Agriculture Thomas Vilsack. The cabinet members are being sued in their official and individual capacities.
The Complaint details numerous U.S. government actions that have forced the Winnemem to retreat from their ancestral homeland on the McCloud and lower Pit Rivers and lose critical elements of their culture. These actions include interfering with the Tribe’s own sacred burial sites; destroying medicinal grapevines and dumping dirt at the Nosoni Creek Cultural Site; bulldozing and filling a vegetated area at Nosoni Creek used for ceremonial storytelling; interfering with the Tribe’s use of an ancient fire pit at Dekkas Cultural Site; allowing trespassing at the Dekkas Cultural Site; destroying ancient Manzanita trees used for sacred fire pit ceremonies at Dekkas; ordering removal of the Tribe’s sacred ceremonial rocks from Dekkas; allowing trespassing at the Coonrod Cultural Site at Ash Creek; destroying ceremonial and medicinal plants at the Gilman road Cultural Site; and, placing a public bike trail through the Tribe’s Buck Saddle sacred prayer site.
According to the Winnemem’s lawyers, these and other actions violate numerous federal laws and policies, including the National Environmental Policy Act, the American Antiquities Act of 1906, the Archeological and Historic Preservation Act, the Historic Sites, Buildings and Antiquities Act, the National Historic Preservation Act, the Archeological Resources Protection Act, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, the American Religious Freedom Act, and several similar California statutes.
The Complaint details causes of action for negligence, trespass, public nuisance, private nuisance, conversion, emotional distress, invasion of privacy, declaratory relief and injunctive relief. It demands a declaratory judgment, as well as injunctive relief and mandamus, and damages against all defendants.