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Winnemem Wintu Tribe: Dancing Salmon Home

On Friday, April 12, sociology instructor Heather Wiley co-hosted a movie screening in room 802 at Shasta College. The movie shown was “Dancing Salmon Home,” an engaging documentary about the Winnemem Wintu tribe. The film chronicled their fight to preserve the Chinook Salmon of Shasta County and their trip to New Zealand to literally dance their salmon home.

Master of Ceremonies Katrina Cantrell, with the Women’s Health Specialists, was there to support the program with regard to women’s rights. As a native herself, she is enthusiastic about “the right we should have to practice our traditions on our sacred land regardless of who owns it.”

After a brief commencement, Katrina introduced traditional Chief Caleen Audrey Sisk, who then proceeded to open with a wintun prayer and a thank you to the full-house audience. “For years and years we have been a little invisible,” but, she encouraged the crowd that “we do have a voice to let the government know the good things we can do for the environment and the water.”

The Winnemem Wintu tribe’s territory lies on and around the McCloud River. The names “Winnemem” and “Wintu” directly translate to “middle water,” and “people.”

    To the Wintu, salmon are more than just a food source; they’re family. They hold a significant role in the religious history of the tribe.

The showing of this movie was a recap of everything the tribe is doing to protect what is, to them, a very important species of fish. “It’s a spiritual connection, an obligation we have to the fish,” said the Chief.

When Shasta Dam was build, it caused a rift in the relationship between the tribe and their scaly neighbors. When the fish traveled back into the lake from the ocean they were greeted with a huge slab of concrete, blocking their passage. Most of the salmon either died or were taken to a fish hatchery.

Because of this, the majority of the fish slowly began to migrate elsewhere in the world.

When word came to the tribe from another indigenous tribe in New Zealand that the salmon had migrated to their waters, various members of the tribe made the trip the island in New Zealand. They spent a couple days there performing ceremonies, praying, and dancing for the salmon.

According to one of the participants, they went there ” just to let the fish know we want them back,” because ” we want to do everything we can to bring the salmon back to the Winnemem, back to the home land.”

By Julie Olson

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