From WILL PARRISH
For the Winnemem Wintu people of the McCloud River watershed (a mighty tributary of the Upper Sacramento River, formed by the southeastern drainage of Mt. Shasta and its stately foothills), the weapon of mass destruction that has wrought greatest harm on their culture is California’s largest dam: the Shasta Dam. This 602-foot-tall concrete plug on the Upper Sacramento River inundated 90% of the Winnemem’s ancestral territory upon its completion in 1945. Salmon, which have always been at the center of the Winnemem’s material and spiritual existence, were thereupon blocked from reaching their historic spawning grounds in the constipated waters upstream, contributing to a massive overall fish die-off in the Sacramento River and the San Francisco Bay Delta.
In the face of these hardships, the Winnemem continue to preserve their culture in every way they can: their language, religion, and traditional healing methods. In the meantime, they struggle to protect their remaining sacred sites and burial grounds from a seemingly interminable stream of threats and encroachments. With California in the throes of the worst drought since official recordkeeping began in the late-1870s, the greatest threat to the Winnemem’s remaining cultural strongholds now has renewed traction in the US Congress: proposed legislation to expand Shasta Reservoir, and thereby flood many of the Winnemem’s remaining ancestral lands.