By Santee Ross, University of Montana
Puberty sucks. I don’t know about everyone else but puberty was an awkward part of my life. I didn’t believe growing pains were real until my back and legs decided to grow a couple inches practically overnight.
Then I found out I will get a painful visit from mother nature every month for the rest of my life. Puberty sucks.
At the time I saw puberty as a painful burden but my mother and grandmother beamed with pride knowing I was on my way toward womanhood. I was on my way from being a little girl to becoming a young woman of the tribe.
For Native people puberty is not only learning about the birds and the bees but marks a time when the young person is coming of age. Most tribes have a ceremony to initiate the person into adulthood. These ceremonies are an important part of those young people’s place among the tribe.
In California, the Winnemem Wintu Tribe is facing challenges of carrying out their sacred coming of age ceremonies, without harassment from outsiders.
For nearly two years the tribe has tried to carry out their ceremony without outsider disturbances along the McCloud River. The river, that is now a Forest Service campground, was once part of the tribe’s territory and is where the tribe holds their coming of age ceremony. The tribe has encountered recreational boaters disturbing their ceremony that yell racial slurs or exhibit vulgar behavior.
The Winnemem Wintu Tribe is recognized by the state as a Native American tribe but not on a federal level. As a non-federally recognized tribe, the U.S. Forest Service said they can’t legally close off the river for the tribe’s ceremony.
My heart breaks for the Winnemem Wintu and those young women who can’t take part in a sacred rite of passage peacefully because ignorant fools boat through the river. The tribe said the boaters who harass them have said things like, “Fat Indians,” and “It’s our river too, dude.”
Frankly that’s just disrespectful to harass someone when they are taking part in their beliefs. I personally would not have minded if those people’s boat sank. I know that’s not very caring of me but just saying, that ain’t right.
I don’t hear of any Natives storming into a church to disrupt a sermon. So why can’t the U.S. Forest Service have empathy for their fellow human and grant them four days to practice their ceremony in peace? Four days is not that much to ask for.
On April 16 about 50 members of the tribe protested outside the U.S. Forest Service building in Vallejo. Caleen Sisk, the tribe’s chief and spiritual leader met with the regional forester to ask 300 yards of the river be closed off during the four days of the ceremony. Only this time is a bit more important because her niece, Marisa Sisk will be taking part in the coming of age ceremony. Marisa is training to become the next leader and chief of her tribe.
This is seriously important, people of the U.S. Forest Service in California, I mean very important--are you listening? This means Marisa not only has to deal with body and emotional change but she has to hope she can go through her coming of age ceremony without harassment. Puberty really does suck.
Santee Ross (Hopi/Lakota) is from Lander, Wyo.