21 May 2012

Maori asked to help American tribe uphold native rights

6:36 am on 21 May 2012

An American tribe embroiled in a native rights dispute is appealing for help from Maori.

The Winnemem Wintu tribe in northern California is battling officials to have a short stretch of water closed so it can perform a traditional coming of age ceremony.

The custom involves young and older women camping together, but in the past they've been harassed by drunken boaties flashing, taunting and shouting racial slurs.

The tribe's planning a protest war dance next weekend because the United States Forest Service won't respond to its request to close part of McCloud River.

A Winnemem Wintu member Michael Preston says they have a link with Maori after travelling to Aotearoa to meet Ngai Tahu representatives.

He says his tribe needs support from New Zealand, because they're a small cluster of people - and they don't have the manpower and political clout.

Mr Preston says when Winnemem Wintu tribe visited New Zealand in 2010, they were taken in and looked after like family.

The United States Forest Service says it's still considering the request for partial closure of the river, but one sticking point is that the tribe isn't federally recognised.

But the tribe says ceremonies are protected under the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.