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Group questioning leadership of Klamath Tribes

published Dec. 10, 2003

Mismanagement charged in Tribal health care, housing and Kla-Mo-Ya Casino


As leaders of the Klamath Tribes continue talks with the federal government about the possible re-establishment of a reservation, all of its members aren't on board with the idea and are concerned about the management of the Tribes.

James "Mountain Chief" Sanderville is leading a small group - there are four members - that is questioning how the Tribes' leadership handles everything from health care to housing to the Kla-Mo-Ya Casino. He said more people would join, but they are afraid to speak out against the Tribes because some of them work for the Tribes and don't want to lose their jobs.

Calling themselves the Maqlaqs, which means "the people" in the Klamath language, Sanderville said, the group wants to change the leadership of the Klamath Tribes.

"We just can't condone the mismanagement," Sanderville said.

And Sanderville himself wants to be the new chairman to lead the change.

The Tribes election for a new chairman is set for next Spring, with nominations being made in February.

Allen Foreman, current Klamath Tribes chairman, said the groups has political motives to their complaints. He said it is an attempt to erode support for him among the members of the Tribes.

"It's easy for people like that to stand at the perimeter and take potshots," Foreman said.

Foreman said many of the concerns Sanderville and the others have aren't ones that would be addressed by the Tribes' Executive Council. While the council is involved in setting policy it doesn't control how the Tribes' programs are managed.

The delay in getting members of the Tribes into the HUD homes was because of federal regulations and the credit ratings of applicants, Foreman said. The houses had to be switched to a different federal program to make them available to those who wanted to move into them.

Foreman said the Tribes' Executive Council has put Sanderville on the agenda several times so the council could hear if there was anything it could help with, but he didn't show up.

Sanderville said he never got any word that he was on the agenda.

Saying his concerns aren't being addressed by the Tribes' leadership, Sanderville has gone to federal agencies looking for help.

He wants federal agencies and a Senate select committee to take a look at the current negotiations about the re-establishment of a reservation. He has sent letters and had conversations with an FBI agent, U.S. Rep. Greg Walden's field representatives, an investigator with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and other federal officials.

He said he wants the federal agencies to expose the problems in the Tribes's leadership.

"There is no way the Tribes are going to work with me, that's why I go to the Federal agencies to force them to clean up the mismanagement," he said.

The current Tribes' leadership shouldn't be in talks with the government, Sanderville said.

"There is no reason they should be negotiating on our behalf," he said.

His queries have gotten little response.

Dallas Boyd, spokesman for Greg Walden, said Sanderville has chatted with Colby Marshall, Walden's Bend field representative, but the issues he brought up aren't something Walden is looking into at this time.

Eric Barnhart, the FBI agent in Bend that Sanderville contacted, said he is "still in the process of looking at it."

Foreman said he doesn't like how Sanderville has gone outside the Tribes with problems he has with them.

"Him taking Tribal issues out of the Tribe is wrong," he said. "It's like me going to Russia to complain about the U.S."

Foreman said Sanderville is a "professional whistle blower," who starts raising trouble wherever he goes, starting with his days in college.

Sanderville acknowledges the title and reputation, saying he "exposes corruption" when he finds it.

Born in Klamath Falls, Sanderville grew up at the Klamath Agency because his father worked for the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs. His mother was a member of the Klamath Tribes and his father was a member of the Blackfeet Tribe. After the Tribes were terminated, the family moved to Juneau, Alaska.

After stints in Salem and the Navajo nation, Sanderville's father moved the family to the Warm Springs reservation when he retired. There Sanderville went to junior high school and high school.

Sanderville then spent over a decade going to different colleges from Kansas to Montana to New Mexico. In all, he said he has 13 years of higher education, coming out with a bachelor's degree in television broadcasting and an associate's degree in electronics.

At his first college, Haskell Indian College, which is now called Haskell Indian Nations University, in Lawrence, Kan., his whistle blowing began.

There, he said the school's president was trying to unscrupulously shut down the school, but Sanderville and other students rallied against it. Before moving back to the Klamath Basin last March, Sanderville had been working as a media specialist for the Warm Springs reservation.

But, he found he had to blow another whistle.

He said the Warms Springs Tribes were mismanaging funds from a federal grant, which he said he called them on and was promptly fired. Sanderville seems to find mismanagement almost wherever he goes, but he said he isn't the one stirring it up.

"I'm not a trouble maker, I'm a trouble shooter - and I won't condone corruption," he said.

The timing of Sanderville's whistle this time disturbs Foreman.

"It's so disastrous, we got important issues," he said.

He said he doesn't want Sanderville to become a distraction while the Tribes are involved in talks that could lead to the re-establishment of a reservation.

"I hate to see mudslinging," he said.

Dino Herrera, another one of the Maqlaqs and the Tribes' former cultural director, said the group knows how important the current talks are and that is why they want to change the leadership.

"The judgments they are making are economically no good for the people," he said.

The Maqlaqs want to get a reservation for the Tribes again, but it should be bigger than what is currently been discussed, Sanderville said.

So far, the discussions have been focused 690,000 acres of national forest land that was once part of the Tribes' old reservation, which was terminated by the federal government in 1954. Sanderville said the talks should involve the 22 million acres that the Klamath and Modoc tribes and the Yahooskin band of the Snake tribe - the three groups that were lumped together into a reservation to make the Klamath Tribes - once controlled in Southern Oregon and Northern California.

He said the land wouldn't need to be a reservation per se, but could be a wilderness area or a wildlife refuge managed by the Tribes, the federal government and the community together.

The group doesn't want the Tribes to give up their water rights, through forbearance or otherwise, to get land.

Along with Sanderville and Herrera, the other two members of the Maqlaqs are elders - Eggsman and Harold "Plummy" Wright.

Both said they are in the group because they remember how things used to be before termination and want to return there. They don't think that the current Tribes leadership can get them back to the prosperity they remember.

"The Tribe is dead unless they change," Eggsman said.

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