Sami Edge | Emerald Freelancer
The Many Nations Longhouse at the University of Oregon was filled to capacity on Friday night for a speech by Caleen Sisk, chief of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe indigenous to Northern California. Sisk, who was hosted by the UO’s Parker Women of Color Speaker Series, is an advocate for the protection of indigenous rights and an activist currently fighting to repopulate the McCloud river of Northern California with native Chinook Salmon – the lifeblood of her people.
The evening started off with an introduction by a representative of the Women’s Center and a few oral presentations including a traditional Woman’s Honor song presented by Lane Community College Student Kimi Roybal and a brief lecture on the importance of salmon and the fisherman’s way of life by UO student and fisherwoman Shayleen Macy. After these short presentations a dinner of fresh salmon was fed to those in attendance.
As the dinner bustle was winding down and the platters of salmon dwindling, Sisk took the floor, beginning her presentation with a short prayer “asking the creator to open (the) eyes and open (the) hearts” of the audience to her words. For the hour that followed, Chief Sisk educated the audience about her tribe’s spiritual connection to the Salmon in the river they live on, the disappearance of the fish due to the Shasta Dam and her current efforts to repopulate the river’s Salmon from a population of the same genetic stock that was shipped to New Zealand in the 1800s.
According to Joanna Stewart, Public Relations Coordinator for the Women’s Center, Chief Sisk was asked to speak because of her role as a distinguished woman of color in the northwest region. Sisk’s appearance on Campus was also designed as a prelude to the Social Justice Real Justice campaign co-sponsored by the Women’s Center coming on February 14.
“(The Women of Color Speaker Series) is a way to make sure we recognize that there are women of color working on issues… It provides a space to let women of color know that there are opportunities to step into these roles,” Stewart said.
The longhouse audience was made up of an eclectic mix of students, professors, university employees and general public all interested in learning about the plight of the Winnemem Wintu tribe. UO student Caradena Gerhardt and Lane Community College student Dana Abbe both recognized the importance of the event for providing insight into an unfamiliar culture.
“It’s different than anything I’ve ever been to,” Abbe said on Friday night. “You don’t typically hear stories from women like this.”
Sisk is an optimist about what students like Abbe and Garhardt can do to aid the indigenous struggle.
“Students are the new light of change,” she said. “I’m really hopeful that the students will take advantage of their opportunities here to reach out to change things as they go along.