Winnemem Wintu & Conservationists: Shasta Dam Raise Will Destroy Native American Culture

Chief Caleen Sisk, Winnemem Wintu Tribe. Photo by Dan Baher

Chief Caleen Sisk, Winnemem Wintu Tribe. Photo by Dan Baher

Published November 8, 2015

On November 5, a coalition of Native American and environmental leaders sent a letter to Senator Barbara Boxer urging her to exclude a provision to enlarge Shasta Dam from the California Emergency Drought Relief Act she has cosponsored with Senator Dianne Feinstein.

The letter states: “For too long dams have been used to solve our water problems with no consideration given to their community and environmental impacts. The time has come to stop this thoughtless, unethical behavior.”

It goes on to call the proposed construction an “unconscionable waste of taxpayer money,” that would “violate the California Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, further threaten distressed salmon populations, and the communities and jobs that depend on them, and cause untold harm to the Winnemem Wintu people and culture.”

The letter points out that 20th century technology is not the answer to 21st century problems. On the contrary, there are “smarter, cheaper, faster, surer ways to provide California the water it needs over the long term,” including efficiency, conservation, groundwater storage and recharge.

The letter concludes by pointing out that “raising the dam will harm the Winnemem Wintu people who have already been harmed by the dam. Shasta Dam flooded most of their sacred sites and traditional homelands, including their cemeteries. Raising the dam will flood out the little that remains. For a traditional people deeply tied to the land, further flooding would be worse than drowning St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican as they have no other sacred places to turn to.”

The letter was signed by: Chief Caleen Sisk, Winnemem Wintu Tribe; Peter Gleick, Member, US National Academy of Sciences, MacArthur Fellow, President, Pacific Institute; Katherine S. Poole, Senior Attorney, Natural Resources Defense Council; Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, Restore the Delta; Melissa Nelson, The Cultural Conservancy; and Christopher McLeod, Sacred Land Film Project.

Friends of the River (FOR) honored Caleen Sisk, along with author and former federal official Dan Beard, with the 2015 “Mark Dubois Award” on October 23 at the City Club of San Francisco.

Caleen Sisk is the Spiritual Leader and Chief of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe, who practice their traditional culture and ceremonies in their territory along the McCloud River in Northern California.

Sisk has focused on maintaining the cultural and religious traditions of the Tribe as well as advocating for California salmon restoration. FOR is working with the Winnemem Wintu to save the McCloud and upper Sacramento Rivers from plans to raise Shasta Dam.

Sisk has also been a relentless opponent of Jerry Brown’s California Water Fix, formerly the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP), to build the Delta Tunnels. This government boondoggle to ship water to corporate agribusiness interests irrigating toxic land on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley will result in the extinction of Central Valley steelhead, Sacramento River Chinook salmon, Delta and longfin smelt, green sturgeon and other fish species. It will also imperil the salmon and steelhead populations on the Trinity and Klamath rivers.

She has organized opposition to the Proposition 1 Water Grab and the fracking of California, as well as lead the campaign for the return of native winter run Chinook salmon from New Zealand to the McCloud River above Shasta Dam.

“Right now the existing water projects continue to damage our ecology,” said Chief Sisk, in front of the Sheraton Grand Hotel in Sacramento, where a “workshop” for the California Water Fix was convened by state and federal officials on July 28. “They have already harmed our fish and driven them to extinction. The tunnels will only complete the job. The tunnels that they want to build are large enough to divert the entire Sacramento River.” (


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