With one of the busiest tourism weekends of the year ahead, a showdown is looming between the U.S. Forest Service and an Indian tribe over plans to hold a war dance at a popular Northern California lake and recreation area.
The Winnemem Wintu tribe plans to blockade a section of Lake Shasta, 10 miles north of Redding, Calif., to hold the dance. The event is in response to the Forest Service's refusal thus far to close a section of the lake so the tribe can hold a coming-of-age ceremony for teenage girls next month.
"We have been backed into a corner with no other choice," said Caleen Sisk, the Winnemem's spiritual leader and chief. "But instead we have to fight simply to protect our young women from drunken harassment."
Sisk said the tribe is expecting about 400 people to attend the war dance at a campground on a remote section of the McCloud River arm of the lake.
Lake Shasta is the third largest body of water in California, and a popular spot for camping, fishing, boating and other activities.
On Friday, a 400-yard section of the river will be blockaded to prevent boats from coming through the area of the McCloud River arm.
"We hope the blockade will let the Forest Service know that boats don't belong in the ceremony and that we will do it ourselves if they won't take the appropriate measures to protect our young women's ceremonies," Sisk said.
The tribe has paid for camping areas, but did not receive a permit from the Forest Service to conduct the ceremony or to close down a section of the lake, Sisk said. The tribe's website says there could be arrests.
Shasta County sheriff's Sgt. Troy Clegg said he was concerned the event was being held on one of the busiest days of the year for the lake. Marinas in the area reported houseboat rentals for this weekend already are sold out.
The Sheriff's Office will have 15 deputies patrolling the lake. Officers from numerous other agencies, including the state Department of Fish and Game, Forest Service and U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, also will be on patrol, he said.
John Heil, a Forest Service spokesman, said that no decision has been made on whether to allow the tribe to hold its coming-of-age ceremony from June 30 to July 3.
Heil said he wasn't sure what the Forest Service planned to do if the tribe blockaded the lake.
The tribe has been working since 2005 to get a portion of the lake closed for the coming-of-age ceremony, which marks a girl's transition into womanhood.
Sisk said this year's ceremony is important because Marisa Sisk is expected to go through the ceremony. The 16-year-old niece of Caleen Sisk is expected to become the tribe's next chief.
In previous years there were voluntary closures on the lake, but boaters went through the area during the ceremony, Caleen Sisk said. One woman on a boat exposed her breasts while they went through the area, she said.
Part of the purpose of the war dance is to seek spiritual guidance on how to solve the impasse with the Forest Service, she said.
"We're asking the spirit world what can we do here? What can we do next?"