Michael Preston, Cal student and tribal activist

The issue of unrecognized tribes brings to a light an important question, from where does our sovereignty and tribal identity come from? From the federal government? Or from somewhere else? I am from Teeyhittaan clan. We have long considered ourselves a sovereign tribe in our own right, though we are a part of the Tlingit Nation and are only recognized by the feds as Tlingit. Still, when is a tribe a tribe? When is it not a tribe? Can new tribes be created (as they surely were at some point in the past?) Can they be destroyed? Who has final say? More on the question here.

From the San Francisco Chronicle


Winnemem Wintu Tribal Land, Shasta County
Michael Preston, student and activist

Michael Preston is a student at UC Berkeley. He is also a member of the Winnemem Wintu, a native tribe born out of Mount Shasta with ancestral lands ranging across the watershed of the McCloud River. When Shasta Dam began holding water in 1944, 4,000 acres of those ancestral lands were flooded. Preston tells the story of his great aunt Flora, whose job it was to dig up the dead from a tribal cemetery in advance of the water; among those she exhumed were her recently deceased parents and a child of her own, who had died less than two years earlier.

Preston is unflinching in denouncing injustices against the Winnemem, past and present. But as he and his tribe continue struggling to maintain a formal title to their homeland, they have no conventional recourse: Because they are unrecognized by the federal government, they are given no formal protection. What’s more, they are a tiny tribe – 123 members, with a nucleus of only 30 people living in the main village northwest of Redding.

And so to fight for the integrity of the land and water that is the heart of their spiritual existence, they have embraced the unconventional tool of multimedia storytelling. The tribe is making documentary films about their endangered rites and using GPS mapping tools to digitally reclaim their homelands. They are on YouTube, Vimeo and Facebook; they have an RSS feed.

At the forefront of this effort is Preston. During the week, he studies digital media and environmental justice; on the weekends he crafts ornate regalia from feathers and beads and dances in traditional ceremonies. For him, it is all part of a single pursuit: protecting the tribe’s life and home. He told me, “Without the land, there is no religion.” And without religion, I inferred, there is no life.

Read more at SF Gate

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About Vince

I am a Tlingit, born and raised in Tlingit Country, and a proud member of the Tlingit Nation.
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