Opposition expressed to Lava Beds status change
LEE JUILLERAT 5/12/17, Herald and News
TULELAKE — Efforts to change Lava Beds National Monument to
a national park appear stymied following a sometimes
contentious roundtable discussion at the Tulelake City Hall
Wednesday afternoon. More than 30 people attended the
gathering following a Lava Beds tour.
the obstacles are fears by regional Native American tribes
that increased visitation could potentially damage cultural
resources while some Tulelake Basin residents believe a
status change could further limit public access to the park.
recurring theme was the fear the Japanese-American group
opposing fencing of the Tulelake Airport might try to
incorporate expansion of the Tule Lake Unit of the World War
II Valor in the Pacific National Monument with legislation
re-designating Lava Beds.
those at the day-long session was Erin Ryan, district
representative for Rep. Doug LaMalfa, a Republican whose far
northern California congressional district includes Lava
Beds. Following the meeting, Ryan said LaMalfa is especially
concerned about fears the Tule Lake Committee, the group
that hosts biannual pilgrimages to the World War II Tule
Lake Segregation Center, wants to extend the current
boundaries and force the airport to relocate and/or close.
listening to all the people,” Ryan said, but she frequently
questioned the value of changing Lava Beds from a national
monument to a national park. The change would require an act
of Congress and is extremely unlikely without support from
LaMalfa and California’s two senators.
with others, Ryan expressed concern a designation change
could lead to use limitations, saying, “That is a concern to
our (LaMalfa’s) office.”
those attending the tour and discussion were representatives
from the Klamath Tribes, Modoc Tribe of Oklahoma and Pit
River Tribe, along with administrators and supervisors from
Modoc and Siskiyou counties. A prior gathering in April was
attended by another staff member for LaMalfa and an aide for
California Sen. Dianne Feinstein. Staff from California’s
other senator, Kamala Harris, who took office in January,
have not participated in the discussions.
Elizabeth Norton, board president of the Volcanic Legacy
Community Partnership, said efforts to promote the status
change were generated after a series of 2016 meetings. An
economic study prepared by Discover Klamath, Klamath
County’s tourism agency, says projected revenues could
increase annually between $23 million and $32.6 million in
direct spending to surrounding communities from increased
and Laura Allen, representing the Butte Valley Chamber of
Commerce and Volcanic Legacy group, said the change would
benefit economically staggering communities, including
Tulelake and Dorris.
“Communities are suffering and this would be a shot in the
arm,” Norton said.
with economic benefits, Norton stressed her belief Lava Beds
qualifies for national park status because of its diverse
cultural, historical and geologic features.
Beds has more than 800 lava tube caves, was the homeland for
prehistoric Native Americans, as evidenced by areas with
high volumes of petroglyphs, and the location of the most
significant events of the Modoc War of 1862-63.
a bus tour that preceded the discussion, Blake Follis, the
Modoc Tribe of Oklahoma’s attorney, voiced concerns about
previous vandalism at Petroglyph Point. He worried that
increased visitation at Petroglyph Point, which he termed
the tribe’s “point of genesis,” might also increase
Chooktoot, the Klamath Tribes cultural and heritage
director, was sharply critical of the lack of protection,
rhetorically asking, “So we’re going to put more people in
this vicinity? We’ve got blood of our people out here.” He
did note, however, “If you’re going to show me an increase
in protection, I can go for that.”
the discussion, Chooktoot criticized the status change as
being only for financial reasons — “It’s gotta be for a
dollar bill” — and said the region’s sagging economy is the
result of increased marijuana growing and use and other
long-standing factors, problems he believes won’t be solved
by a change in park status.
response, Tulelake Mayor Hank Ebinger said he believes
national park status would give Lava Beds and its Native
American history a higher profile and “could be an
opportunity for that story to be told ... It’s not just an
opportunity to make a buck.” Mark Clark, an Oregon Tech
history professor, echoed Ebinger, noting a status change
could raise awareness of the Native history and the “sadly
neglected” Modoc War.
Gimmel, Pit River Tribe chairman, mostly focused his
sometimes angry comments on concerns about the Medicine Lake
Highlands, which border the park and have been considered
for geothermal development. “You better take us seriously
and talk to us,” he barked. “We can be in opposition or we
could be with you.”
Axelrod, the Pit River Tribe’s cultural specialist,
expressed disappointment the tribe was not invited to
Wednesday’s meeting — the Klamaths and Modocs had been
notified — and asked Norton if she or others who support
redesignation would attend tribal meetings. Norton, who
apologized for not contacting Pit River tribal council
Chester Robertson, Modoc County’s CEO, and Supervisor Geri
Byrnes, whose area includes the Tulelake Basin, expressed
concerns the Tule Lake Committee might seek amendments to
legislation authorizing a Lava Beds status change.
committee recently refiled a lawsuit against Modoc County
for plans to develop a fence around the Tule Lake Airport,
which was part of the Tule Lake Segregation Center and is
managed by Modoc County. They and others said they want
assurances of the wording of any proposed legislation —
bills for the status change would have to be filed in the
House and Senate — and any possible attachments.
Distrust of federal agencies
frequent theme was a general distrust for federal agencies.
Dave Misso, a longtime Newell area resident who lives near
The Peninsula, complained that he and other area residents
in recent years have been forbidden from walking or hiking
in the area. Addressing Chocktoot, Misso emotionally
insisted, “The spiritual thing you talk about, many of us
have that, too.”
Bartholomew, Malin city council member and Malin Historical
Society president, who helped oversee the discussion, said
there is a need for more tribal involvement in upcoming
talks and noted a similar need for participation by Tulelake
Basin residents. He also believes strategies should be
developed to better preserve historic artifacts. A better
understanding of the legislative process was also deemed
Despite an often negative tone, Norton urged people to
discuss changing Lava Beds’ status with their groups and to
“seek common ground and remain positive.”
The Modoc Tribe: Making the journey back
Petroglyph Point, an area that is part of Lava Beds National
Monument that features more than 5,000 carved petroglyphs, is an
area of pride and concern for Blake Follis, a member of the
Modoc Tribe of Oklahoma's tribal council and the council's
"This is part of our history, our creation," Follis said during
a stop at the petroglyphs during a Lava Beds tour Wednesday.
Park officials estimate the carvings were done 4,000 to 6,000
Follis led the group to a panel of rock images, where he focused
on damage done by vandals inside a fenced area. "The fence here
would surely have to be improved," he said.
In 2013, more than 50 petroglyphs were damaged at a nearby
unfenced area. Only a portion of the petroglyphs are fenced.
Security is a concern because Petroglyph Point is not connected
to the main park. There are stiff federal fines for people
convicted of doing damage to cultural sites, but patrols are
Although Follis lives in Miami, Okla., he has made several
visits to Petroglyph Point and other areas of the park,
including significant sites from the Modoc War of 1862-63.
Follis, 32, is the great-great-great-grandson of Long Jim, the
youngest warrior during the war. He's also the grandson of Chief
Bill Follis, the tribal leader for the past 45 years.
Following the war, four tribal leaders, including Captain Jack,
Schonchin John, Black Jim and Boston Charlie, were hanged at
Fort Klamath. On Oct. 12, 1873, 155 Modoc prisoners of war — 42
men, 59 women and 54 children — left Fort Klamath and were taken
by train to the Quapaw Indian Reservation in Oklahoma. After six
years, their population shrank to 99 and by 1891 to 68. In
recent years — the Modoc Tribe in Oklahoma was granted federal
recognition in 1978 — Follis said the number of enrollees has
risen to 299.
Although he lives in Miami, in northeastern Oklahoma, Follis
said the Lava Beds region is also "home." As he explained,
"We're talking about a location my family fought and died for.
The significance for me is to bring back my son and show him
what and where we came from."
Since gaining tribal status, he said the Modoc Tribe is "looking
for opportunities to invest in the region," culturally and
historically, with a goal of returning to Lava Beds and the
"In recent years we've establishing a solid foundation to make
this journey back. We don't want to convey an impression we're
here to take over. We want to be a partner ... We don't want,"
he emphasized, "to displace anybody like they displaced us."
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