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Reservation push on hold

Allen Foreman

 August 28, 2005

The Klamath Tribes still want a reservation, but the Tribes are going to wait before making any more proposals public.

"We are going to take some time and regroup," said Chairman Allen Foreman.

In mid-July, Foreman revealed a plan during a meeting with the Klamath County commissioners for the Chiloquin-based Tribes to pay "fair-market" price for former reservation lands that are now part of the Fremont-Winema National Forests and other publicly held lands.

The proposal came after years of asking the federal government to return the land to the Tribes.

Formerly known as just the Klamath Tribe, the group was terminated from federal recognition as a tribe in 1961 and its 1 million-acre reservation was abolished and payments made to tribal members.

Much of the reservation became national forest land. The Tribes were reinstated to federal recognition in 1986, but no longer have a reservation.

Foreman would not say whether the proposal to pay for the land was still on the table or not. He said the Tribes have some internal decisions they need to make about the proposal.

"The membership has to come up with it," he said.

The Tribes have more than 3,500 members, who can attend quarterly General Council meetings that guide the Tribes. The day-to-day governance is done by a 10-member council, headed by Foreman.

After Foreman told the commissioners the Tribes would pay, the General Council held a special meeting Aug. 5. While issues concerning the proposal were addressed at the closed-door meeting, it is not clear if it was the sole purpose for the gathering.

Documents from the meeting obtained by the Herald and News show tribal members questioned what was in the proposal for them and how it would affect the economics of the Tribes. The Tribes have not indicated how they would pay for the land or how much it would cost.

While the Tribes internal talks about a reservation are in flux, so are their talks with the federal government.

Bill Bettenberg, an Interior Department higher-up from Washington, D.C., who had been the federal point man on the reservation talks, retired July 29 to go to law school at Georgetown University. His replacement, Larry Finfer, has yet to meet with the Tribes, Foreman said.

Talks had been going on between them for about two years, but slowed in Bettenberg's last months while he said he was waiting for a proposal from the Tribes that had the support of the public in the Klamath Basin.

In the Tribes' September 2003 newsletter, Foreman said the negotiations should take another year and that the Tribes were getting ready to put out a proposed package. Although the Tribes put out a forest management plan detailing how they would manage a restored reservation in late 2003, and also held a trio of public meetings in late 2003 and early 2004, a specific proposal of how a land transfer would happen never came out.

The Tribes still want a reservation, but Foreman now doesn't give a time frame of when it might happen.

"The window has closed, but our goal is the same," he said.

While the Tribes determined among themselves what their reservation proposal is, a public meeting elaborating it before the county commissioners is on hold.

After Foreman addressed the commissioners July 13, there was talk of a public meeting on Aug. 2, but it was scrapped because Commissioner Al Switzer couldn't make it. Further attempts to fit such a meeting into the schedules of three commissioners and Foreman resulted in a plan to meet Sept. 26.

"We delayed it also," said Commissioner Bill Brown.

But now, Foreman said it will be "some time" before the Tribes can hold such a meeting.

Brown had called for the first meeting after the Basin Alliance to Save the Fremont and Winema Forests, a group opposed to the reservation restoration, formed in response to the Tribes' efforts, asked the commissioners to pass a resolution saying they would not support a land return in any form to the Tribes.

Brown, a first-term commissioner who started in January, said he wanted to hear more about what the Tribes were asking for from the Tribes themselves.




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