Opinion: U.S. must protect Winnemem Wintu Tribe

"The federal government may think it's time to cut a deal with high-powered water districts in California's San Joaquin Valley, but our people think it is time for the government to honor a deal that has never been completed. The federal government must fulfill its obligations - not to powerful agribusinesses, but to the Winnemem Wintu Tribe.

Our people are a traditional people. We continue our cultural practices and cling to our ancestral homelands along the McCloud River in Northern California, where our sacred sites are located. Water is life to our people. But we have watched these waters flow to chemical-intensive farming in the Central Valley for the past 40 years.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is negotiating with the Westlands Water District, which serves parts of Fresno and King counties, to secure water rights for agribusinesses and relieve debt owed on infrastructure built to deliver water to their farms. In exchange, the water district would clean up the toxic mess it created when it failed to provide proper drainage of its pesticide-laden fields.

When the Shasta Dam began construction in 1938, more than 90 percent of Winnemem ancestral land was lost. Indian allotment land, granted by the federal government, was seized. Our sacred sites were flooded and the remains of our elders dug up and moved. Today, the federal government consistently disturbs our traditional prayer grounds by raising and lowering the water table behind Shasta Dam, without consultation or concern for our tribe.

The 1941 Central Valley Project Indian Lands Acquisition Act gave the Winnemem lands in compensation for those taken and funds to replace the infrastructure that was lost when the Shasta Dam was built. To this day, we have not received any of these things. It is time the federal government lived up to its end of the bargain. We have paid many times over.

Now the federal government wants to continue this destructive cycle. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is investigating the possibility of raising the Shasta Dam. If raised, the dam would drown the last remaining sacred and traditional sites that are imperative to the Winnemem existence on the McCloud River. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's most recent water proposals leave the back door open to raising Shasta Dam."

Get the Story:
Mark Franco: Hidden costs of water development (The San Francisco Chronicle 8/27)

Relevant Links:
Winnemum Wintu Tribe - http://www.winnememwintu.us

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