A small band of Winnemem Wintu people of northern California came to our land to call their relations, the Nur/Salmon home. They sought permission from the Tangata Whenua (local tribal groups) of this area to do this, to come into our sacred land to perform their sacred ceremony. The humility of these people and the dignity and grace by which they conducted themselves was deeply moving.
Aroha atu, aroha mai is a Maori proverb which speaks of the fact that if one lives in a state of aroha, sharing, loving, giving then this will be returned many many times. And so during our time together there was much aroha flowing between our people and our very special manuhiri/visitors. Many whanau/families, hapu and iwi family and tribal groups, worked together to ensure our visitors, our relations, the Winnemem Wintu, were able to complete their ceremonies which were held over 4 days.
Their Creation stories tell of the creation of the trees, the animals, the birds, the insect, the fish and how when these beings were created, they knew what their purpose was for their time on Grandmother Earth and they immediately went about fulfilling their duties, their roles, their lives all of which was and still is to hold the balance of our beloved Grandmother Earth. However when humanity was created this was not the case. Humans were confused as to what their purpose was. They had no purpose and they had no voice. After much deliberation among the animal, bird, fish, tree and creatures great and small it was the Sacred Fish the Nur/Salmon that decided to gift humanity their voice. And so the relationship began, a dance of life, a dance of deep respect between the Nur and the Winnemem Wintu Nation. This was so for many many millenia.
With the advent of colonisation the people of the Winnemem Wintu Nation were unable to stand up for their relations the Nur.Their relationship was broken because this concept was not acknowledged or recognised in their role as guardians of their relations the Nur by the colonising people, agencies, governement. In the mid to late 1800’s the USA government gave salmon eggs from their river to the New Zealand government.The Salmon have survived in many rivers in New Zealand since.
There was a chance meeting at the United Nations between their Chief, Caleen Sisk-Franco and a New Zealand Human Rights representative also a woman, whereby Caleen was able to share this story which began the ball rolling and four years later they arrive to begin their ceremony on the full moon of March 2010 in the valley of the convergence of the great braided rivers of the Rakaia and the Wilberforce and Lake Coleridge.
The purpose was to firstly apologise to the Nur for their not speaking up for them when the eggs were taken in the 1800’s and to let them know that they always remembered them, they were never forgot and that they had come to call them home through their ancient ceremonial dances and songs.
During the four days at the site there were many sightings of the Salmon and the Eel in fact, both physically and spiritually and even the Black Bear was sighted, such was the sacredness of this epic event.When Caleen, their chief first went to the waters of the Rakaia, Tuna came to meet her and raised his head out of the water to her. Shortly afterwards Nur rose out of the water to herald their arrival. All present were humbled by this act of acknowledgement and honouring by these creatures of the waters.
Their stories tell that if the Salmon dies, the oceans will die. We have a similar story with Tuna the eel in that if the eels disappear the rivers will disappear also. So crucial are these magnificent creatures to the health of the domain of Tangaroa, to the life of the Waters. And Water is the Lifeblood of our Grandmother Earth.
The Winnemem Wintu people reminded us of our responsibility to stand up for our waterways, rivers, lakes and oceans. We need to ALL STAND TOGETHER on this. There is not a moment to lose. We need to do this for our Grandchildren. This is their legacy, they are the future kaitiaki of our beloved Grandmother Earth. We as grandparents and parents need to strive to ensure these gifts are intact and in the best possible health in order for this to happen. So much is at stake. We all need to act together for our Grandmother Earth to bring balance and harmony back to her. We can do this. Papatuanuku, Grandmother Earth needs to be our only focus.
Thank you brave and courageous people of the Winnemem Wintu for inspiring and motivating us into action, Winnemem Wintu, people of the Middle Water. Thank you for gracing our mountains, rivers, animals, birds, fish all creatures great and small, with your presence. They certainly acknowledged and honoured you. Thank you for gracing us with your presence.
Ka nui te aroha nunui ki a koutou ki ou koutou kaha ki te pupuri ki te kaupapa nunui, a Papatuanuku.
For further information about these people and their struggle for survival against overwhelming odds, please view their website: www.winnememwintu.us