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7/29/2005 AM Capital Press
Homeland shrank from 22 million acres to none: 1864 to 1974

Before European-Americans began settling in Southern Oregon and Northern California, Klamath, Modoc and Yahooskin Indians roamed over about 22 million acres, an area extending from the upper reaches of the Sprague and Williamson rivers down to Mount Shasta in Northern California.

In 1864, the U.S. government signed a treaty with the three groups that established a single reservation on 2 million acres of what is now central Klamath and Lake counties. Over the following decades, surveys, changes in boundaries and land cessions reduced the size of the reservation to the 1.2 million acres it encompassed in 1954, when the federal government terminated the tribe and began the process of abolishing the reservation.

Before termination, the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs administered timber sales from reservation lands, with a portion of the proceeds going to each member in “per capita” payments.

For many the payments meant they didn’t have to work.

In the 15 years before termination, each member on the tribe’s roll was getting about $800 per year. When totaled up for a family of four, that was more than the median income for the population as a whole in Klamath County at the time.

The reservation’s superintendent – who with one exception had always been a white man – had complete authority. Tribal members had to ask him about almost every major decision, including whether they could leave the reservation.

“They treated us like children and dictated to our people,” said Joe Hobbes, current vice chairman of the Klamath Tribes.

As early as the 1920s, the tribal groups who had lived more than a half-century on the Klamath Indian Reservation wanted out. Debate among tribal leaders continued for decades, with potential forms of termination ranging from the formation of a corporation run by the tribes to the liquidation of all the land. The idea eventually pushed through the U.S. Congress was the latter.

In 1953, the U.S. House passed Concurrent Resolution 108, which called for an end of federal supervision and control for all the tribes of California, Florida, New York and Texas as soon as possible. Beyond those, it named five tribes that should be terminated – one was the Klamath Tribe.

U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs officials told Congress that the Klamath Tribe was practically assimilated already and were ready for the government to get out of their affairs. The tribes were considered ready for termination mostly because of their timber assets and their potential to be financially independent.

The Klamath Tribe and the Menomonee Tribe of Wisconsin were the first tribes to be terminated, both in 1954. They rode the crest of a wave of 12 termination bills that by 1962 would eliminate 61 bands and tribes.




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