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www.heraldandnews.com Views differ on tribal dispute
Opposition group discusses dispute
On the Web: Tribal information
Response from Klamath Tribes’ tribal council
How tribal government works
Klamath Tribes’ leaders and opposition group are at odds
The Klamath Tribes rank among the larger employers in the Klamath Basin.
They also are key players in the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement, a document that seeks to resolve disputes over water in the Basin and stabilize the region’s communities.
But three times in the past several months, Klamath County sheriff ’s deputies and Oregon State Police troopers have defused encounters between the tribal government’s elected leaders and an opposition group that says it legally recalled them.
The Tribes have roughly 3,600 enrolled members living in and outside the Basin. The government headquarters is in Chiloquin.
The Herald and News sought to answer some questions about the situation facing the Tribes and how tribal government works. The paper requested the current tribal government, those opposed to it and others involved in the issue to comment.
A hearing on a civil lawsuit filed by the opposition group is set for Monday at the tribal court in Chiloquin.
The General Council is made up of the entire enrolled adult tribal membership. It is the Tribes' legislative body and governing authority.
The Tribal Council has 10 members elected every three years and act at the direction of the general council.
Opposition group discusses dispute Two people involved with efforts to unseat the existing Klamath Tribes Tribal council responded to requests to discuss their concerns with tribal policies.
GeorGene Nelson is a tribal member who works as a construction secretary and, during her off hours, is a lay advocate helping Tribal members with legal cases.She has been assisting Tribal members Roberta Frost and Jennifer Jackson in their civil suit filed in Klamath Tribal Court.
Nelson, 52, said she and her immediate family are descendants of Klamath, Modoc, Paiute, Mollala and Pit River tribes.She was raised in the Klamath Basin until she married and moved to Salem in 1979. Nelson returned to the Klamath Basin in the mid-1990s to be near family and “enjoy the area of my childhood.”
Frost submitted e-mail responses to questions, but provided no personal information.Q: Who’s in charge, and what authority do they have?
“The question of who is in charge is probably not relevant to the situation,” according to Nelson, who said three different bodies make up the Klamath Tribal government.
The general council is the Tribes’ leg islative body and governing authority, and comprises the entire enrolled adult tribal membership.A 10-member tribal council is responsible for the executive body, which handles everyday government affairs and reports to the general council. The third branch is judicial, which is intended to be independent of the other bodies.
The general council is in charge of the Tribes.In the Klamath Tribes Constitution, Nelson said Article IX describes a recall or impeachment process for Klamath Tribal officials. Recalls are rare. The last happened Aug. 6, 2005, when an at-large member was impeached.
“ The constitution is set up to replace offici ls immediately i f, through a hearing process, it is determined they are not suitable for the job any longer. There is a replacement by the person with the next highest votes from the previous election,” Nelson said.The Bureau of Indian Affairs ruled in a letter from Stan Speaks that the current Tribal council was still in charge. But Frost expects that ruling to be overturned.
“It is my understanding, from reading legal decisions from the Interior Board of Indian Appeals, when a decision is made by a Bureau official that interferes with a tribe’s right to self governance, it is usually overturned,” she said. “We feel that Mr. Speaks overstepped his authority in this instance.”Q: Generally, what is happening? What is the disagreement about?
Nelson said tribal members have been asking for budget information since 2005, and members believe the general council is the last to know about what is going on with their government.The general council used to be considered the governing authority, she said, but the Tribal council’s practices have “worked to diminish its authority.
“The Tribal council is described historically as having no decision-making authority; they are to be as advisors to the general council, the assembly of voters. But somehow this has changed and the general council is not pleased.”She said Tribal elders are upset because of minimal services, low percapita payments and a lack of information.
“There are high levels of frustration amongst people who do not work for the Tribes,” she said. “They are not employees, but they are the people who vote in the laws, and govern over the land, resources, their people, and protect their inherent rights.”Nelson said some Tribal members believe the Tribal council is breaking employee policies and overlooking nepotism.
Frost believes the Tribal council has tried to erode general council authority for several years. “I feel that this Tribal council ignores the direction of the general council and doesn’t present information for decisions.”She said the Tribal council ignored actions taken in November to remove nine of its members.
“This to me is totally reverse of what should be happening,” Frost said. “If the removed Tribal council members felt that there was a flaw in their removal, they should have filed a case in Tribal Court for a judicial review of the process. Instead, they have refused to leave office and in my opinion are trying to run out the clock.”Q: How does the dispute affect Tribal members?
“It would depend on who you talk with,” Nelson said. “The dispute definitely makes people curious, afraid, hostile, indifferent, upset, or any other number of emotions.“ The Tribes are one huge family. The decisions made for removal of tribal officials means someone, who is related to someone else on the Tribal council, is taking actions that can be viewed negatively by the receiver of the action,” she said.
“People’s feelings get hurt, mean things are said, people get pushed, shoved, or horrible statements are made toward them. People get stirred up.”Q: Why does it matter to anyone outside the Tribes?
The Klamath Tribes are a domestic sovereign nation, which has its own laws, policies and procedures, and its leaders are delegated at times to deal with state, federal and county officials, Nelson said.She compared the current process to impeaching or voting out local, state or federal officials, noting, “What happens then? A replacement is found and put into office. The Tribes work in a similar fashion. We have recall ability for those who work as public servants.”
Frost expressed concerns with the tribal vote on the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement. She questioned a 19-day time frame, but said the bigger issue is that after the agreement was finalized, the Tribal council never presented the information to the general council.“This never happened. Instead Tribal members were expected to download the document and digest all of the information in a short period of time.”
Q: How does the tribal government system work?Various tribal committees work with the Tribal council, including the Gaming Regulatory Commission, which oversees the Kla-Mo-Ya Casino; the Klamath Tribes Economic Development Corporation , which oversees economic development projects and is semi-autonomous; and the Klamath Tribal Health and Family Services, which provide limited health care.
The general council, the Tribes’ legislative body and its governing authority, consists of enrolled members 18 years of age and older. The Tribal council’s 10 members are elected every three years and act at the direction of the general council.The general council meets quarterly or when a special meeting is called either by the Tribal council chairman or by a petition of 100 members, where decisions are based on a majority of voters.
Q: How does the Tribal court work?GeorGene Nelson said the court deals with child support, civil lawsuits and landlord/tenant issues.
It has a judge, staff and a judicial commission, which helps get laws approved for the Klamath Tribes.Frost said the tribal court previously handled housing and juvenile matters but after the general council passed the tribal court Ordinance and Rules for Civil Procedure, now hears civil matters.
On the Web: Tribal information
Background information on Klamath Tribal laws can be found at the Klamath Tribes’ Web site at www.klamathtribes.org under “Tribal Court” — Constitution and ordinances. Information about the civil case is available at http://klamathtribalcivilsuit.webs.com . The Web site has audio of general council meetings and the mediation with Klamath County Sheriff Tim Evinger under the “Spread the Word” header.
Response from Klamath Tribes’ tribal council
The Herald and News on Tuesday emailed current Klamath Tribes chairman Joe Kirk and tribal council members Torina Case, Jeff Mitchell and Perry Chocktoot, as well as tribal spokeswoman Taylor David and tribal attorney Carl Ullman about the situation facing the Tribes.Case responded Wednesday, saying the council was working on answers to the questions. But the council had not provided a response by late Friday afternoon.
A follow-up e-mail and phone call to Case were not immediately returned.David declined to comment, saying any response would have to come from the Tribal council.
Kirk previously said there were a number of underlying reasons why some tribal members were unhappy with the sitting tribal government, but declined to say what those reasons were.He added the tribal government has sought to resolve concerns of those tribal members, but with no result.
Tribal officials have also said that it will likely be the general council, which comprises the entire enrolled adult tribal membership, to resolve the situation.
How tribal government works
Tribal government functions around a council-based system, which governs in accordance with each tribe’s constitution.
“This is like the Bible to the tribes,” said Betty Scissons, with the Portland-based Northwest Regional Office for the Bureau of Indian Affairs. “They have to follow constitutional bylaws.”The Klamath Tribes council is made up of members of the Klamath and Modoc tribes, and the Yahooskin Band of Snake Indians. A 10-member council is elected every three years by members of the Klamath Tribes. The voting members must be at least 18 years old.
The council includes a Tribal chairman, vice chairman, secretary, treasurer and six Tribal council members.“These are what govern the tribes in terms of day-to-day business,” Scissons said.
In addition to the Tribal council, a Tribal court oversees the administration of Tribal laws, ensuring all Tribal actions are constitutional.Klamath Tribes projects
Several construction projects are under way, aimed at providing a financial boon to the Klamath Tribes organization.The Tribes in late 2008 acquired the Crater Lake Mill site, a 108-acre parcel of land on Highway 97 north of Chiloquin. The land was part of the tribes’ former reservation, and members had been looking to reacquire it for several years.
Tentative plans call for the construction of a “Green Enterprise Park” on the site. It would process small diameter trees for multiple uses, including wood chip manufacturing, bundled firewood and greenhouses. It also might include a biomass facility, putting more resources into local energy grids.Another project is the Crater Lake Junction Travel Center, a 7,800-square-foot welcome center near the Kla-Mo-Ya Casino at the Highway 62 Crater Lake Junction.
Original plans called for a tentative building completion date of March 8. Members of the Klamath Tribes Economic Development Corp. also submitted a request to have a Subway restaurant and a gift shop installed in the travel center.Members of the development corporation said the hope is to attract casino visitors and highway commuters to the visitors’ center, according to the tribe’s newsletter.
Tribal spokespersons could not be reached for comment on either of the projects in development.
Page Updated: Tuesday March 02, 2010 03:28 AM Pacific
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