California Indigenous Tribe Maps Advocates for Sacred Sites and Environmental Justice

By miho kim
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The circumstances: The bulk of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe territory has been submerged by the construction of the Shasta Dam. Raising the Dam would threaten their remaining territories, including tribal sacred sites.

The project: In early March, DataCenter traveled joined the Tribe in its community near Redding, CA to review preliminary findings from interviews with Tribal members and formulate a plan for public education and advocacy about the issue.

Because of your support, DataCenter partnered with the Winnemem Wintu Tribe and launched the Winnemem Wintu Sacred Sites Oral Documentation Project in 2007. The project served two main purposes:

  • Preserve the Tribal members’ rich traditional knowledge for future generations
  • Document their information using research tools to help them advocate for environmental justice

The future: Throughout the summer, Datacenter will partner with the Pacific Institute, the Georgraphy Department at San Francisco State University and the Sacred Lands Film Project to lead participatory mapping workshops to document the Winnemem Wintu Sacred Sites. Using hands-on tools and mobile devices, Tribal members across generations will use their traditional knowledge to design a map of their sacred sites, a powerful piece of evidence in the argument to protect Tribal land in the wake of Dam construction.

This project is an exciting model that demonstrates DataCenter’s newly developed capacity-building strategies through internships and community fellowships. Mike Preston, a young Winnemem Wintu leader currently enrolled at UC Berkeley, began his internship at DataCenter in 2007 and initiated the documentation component of this project. Today, as a Community Fellow at DataCenter, he is key consul to his tribe. In the words of Tribal Headman, Mark Franco,

“[DataCenter’s] support has been crucial to this project; their expertise in planning and implementing oral history projects has given our entire effort and Mike a strong foundation in understanding new methodolgies and techniques…Futhermore, DataCenter’s unique social justice perspective and commitment to honoring community expertise and experiences has allowed…Mike to craft a project that will truly highlight the voices of the Winnmem Wintu Tribe.”

The Sacred Sites Oral Documentation Project has supported the Winnemem Wintu Tribe in developing a self-sustaining infrastructure and inventory for the preservation of their unique knowledge. They also gained the capacity to conduct and use research to meet strategic needs and elevate their message in an authentic way. We look forward to our growing partnership of key allies in this effort and are grateful to the California Consumer Protection Foundation for its generous support of the project.