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There's no basis to give public lands to Tribes for a new reservation

 February 14, 2005

By G.M. Howard

Guest columnist

The Herald and News front-page article Jan. 16 indicated that the Klamath Tribes are seeking a "solution" to the water rights and land issues that have been plaguing the Klamath Basin for several years.

As noted in the article, non-public meetings between tribal leaders and certain irrigation officials have been quietly held throughout the past several months.

The claimed purpose of the talks being facilitated by former State Sen. Steve Harper is to clear up contested water right claims in the state of Oregon's adjudication process.

While most everyone affected agrees that taking action to resolve water right claims is a positive step, the action must be according to state law. Any actions concluded behind closed doors become immediately suspect to outsiders. Any actions by participants that suggest water right claims being resolved through any form of land exchange should be absolutely forbidden.

The Klamath Tribes continue to seek a "land for water right" deal.

Tribal leaders now are seeking 730,646 acres of land, or 40,646 acres more than they requested in the fall of 2003. The additional acreage are those contained within the boundaries of the Klamath Marsh National Wildlife refuge.

Tribal leaders continue to obliquely indicate perhaps a lessening of the claims to the watershed flows if there came a "flow" of support from irrigators to have portions of the former Klamath Indian Reservation given back to the Tribe.

The Klamath Marsh National Refuge is a very significant resting and nesting site for waterfowl using the Pacific Flyway for north and south migrations. The marsh is a generous aquatic ecosystem that holds several hundred thousand acre-feet of water in the Upper Basin Creek, and Hog Creek as well as many other intermittent creeks and springs. The waters of the Upper Klamath Marsh are vital to all of the upper and lower basin irrigators and citizens of the Klamath Basin.

Land request gets bigger

The Klamath Basin Alliance opposed efforts during 2003 and 2004 by tribal leaders to have lands within the Winema National Forest and a small portion of the Fremont National Forest returned to the Tribes. With tribal leaders now asking for even more lands, the Klamath Basin Alliance is even more opposed. The alliance is focused to keep all public lands as public lands for all time.

The alliance strongly believes in the facts that have been unearthed from the Klamath Tribe's own archived meetings, termination documents and legislation by Congress. The Termination of Federal Supervision of the Klamath Tribes Act of 1954 opened the door for tribal members to sell their interests (allotments) on the reservation. Following that act, tribal members had the opportunity to sell their interests, to remain as members with their allotment, or abstain.

According to the Federal Register and the list of "persons electing to remain," of the then 2,331 tribal members, 1,659 voted to sell, 80 voted to remain and 394 did not vote, or presented invalid ballots. Subsequently, the Klamath Tribes received more than $220 million from U.S. citizens in exchange for the land mass that became public land with the custodial stewardship under the jurisdiction of the Winema National Forest.

Prevailing above all else since the beginning of that stewardship is the fact that those lands and the resources on those land are to be available for use by all citizens of the United States of America, regardless of race or national origin, and will by all intentions of the alliance, remain so through future time - "infinity."

It is not in the best interests of the citizens of the Klamath Basin, the state of Oregon, or the United States of America to allow a sovereign tribal government the jurisdiction over all aspects of the management of lands that have such enormous impacts on the ecological, environmental, social, domestic, and economical virtues for thousands of non-tribal citizens.

It is important for the public and the Tribes to know that the Klamath Basin Alliance is not a small group of individuals interested in creating friction for no just cause.

The Klamath Basin Alliance has large community support from persons and groups who wish for public ownership of national forest and other public lands to remain with the citizens.

Citizens who own lands surrounded by the national forest or adjacent to the forest boundaries would feel particularly in peril should those lands fall into a sovereign entity ownership.

It is the mission of the Klamath Basin Alliance to continue to advise the public of the truth behind tribal claims and negotiations occurring between the Tribe and the various government agencies and trusts.

The issues regarding the tribal takeover of national forest lands need to remain clear and not be clouded by discussions of restitutions and reparations.

Investigations into the Klamath Tribal Termination, as found in the Klamath Tribes Archives, clearly indicate that 78 percent of the voting tribal members - a definite majority - voted for the sale of the Klamath Tribes' reservation to the federal government in 1954. Further, the Termination of Federal Supervision of the Klamath Tribe Act of 1954 was authored and submitted to Congress by tribal leaders and members of that time period. As such, for the current tribal leadership and members to try to frame their current desire to take the lands back as a "reparation" cannot be correct. It is wrong. An entity cannot receive "reparation" for something that was willfully given up or sold.

Serious questions exist

The reasons given by the tribal leadership to justify the taking of the national forest lands back is to allow for their "economic self-sufficiency."

Such reasoning certainly brings out many serious questions. Does it not cost the federal stewards of those lands several million dollars each year to manage those lands? Where will the Klamath Tribe obtain those same millions of dollars? Will the timber receipts from timber sales supply the millions of dollars? How many years can those lands sustain extensive cutting without the regulations currently in place by the managing government agencies? Are endangered species of plants, animals, and fish protected on sovereign tribal lands? The list just goes on and on.

Obviously the management of those lands is a huge financial liability. Is obtaining a huge financial liability how the tribal leadership envisions "economic self-sufficiency?"

Before the conception of Indian casinos it may have been a considered method for tribes to be "self-sufficient" from timber lands. However, now by all appearances, the Kla-Mo-Ya casino seems to be providing economic self-sufficiency for the tribal leaders and members, leaving the question of the Tribe's "need" for timber land unanswered.

The Klamath Basin Alliance, through its political network and with the widespread support of local citizens, will continue to resist any effort to remove any public lands from public ownership.

The author

G.M. Howard is vice chair of the Klamath Basin Alliance, and this commentary represents his views, and those of the Alliance board.


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