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Turning things around

Garrick Jackson, right, a member of the Klamath Tribal Council, helps a young member of the Klamath Tribes make a bow at the Klamath Culture Camp near the headwaters of the Williamson River last summer. The Tribes have held the camp every summer for the past 24 years.

Tribal leaders work to address social problems, regain treaty rights

Fourth of five parts.

By DYLAN DARLING June 22,2005

When the federal government terminated the Klamath Tribe, it ended the flow of monthly payments that had been the sole source of income for many of its members.

Gone, too, was the government's help with health, education and economic development.

The consequences of the U.S. Congress's termination of the Klamath Tribe, which was passed in 1954 and went into effect in 1961, were poverty, confusion and division among former tribal members.

"It created a chain of events no one expected," said Allen Foreman, current chairman of the Klamath Tribes.

Friction developed between the three categories of former tribal members - withdrawing, remaining and descendants.

And no matter what category members of the Tribe fell in or what percentage of American Indian blood flowed in their veins, they were no longer considered Indian in the eyes of the federal government, and thus also by many other tribal governments.

Young tribal members in the Williamson River last summer during the Klamath Culture Camp. The two-week long camp activities include language classes, cultural games, making drums and obsidian arrowheads and singing.

Members of the Tribe who tried to enter American Indian rodeos, basketball tournaments and other competitions and gatherings were turned down because they were no longer considered Indians.

"The loss of the land, and to have people tell you are not Indian any more - it didn't help your self-esteem," said Gerald Skelton, cultural director for the Klamath Tribes.

The one-time infusion of money to members of the Tribe exacerbated social problems, mainly alcoholism. Many died of alcoholism or were killed in alcohol-related accidents.

Rick Steber, an Oregon author who grew up in Chiloquin, said he was driving with his son around the old reservation land decades after termination. As he drove, he pointed out places where friends, acquaintances and others he had known had lost their lives in car wrecks.

"It was almost always alcohol to blame," Steber said.

If you build a business, you are going to buy a piece of land. Former tribal Chairman Chuck Kimbol

The mortality rate of tribal members, already high before termination, shot up after termination. "Alcohol and fast cars just don't mix," Foreman said.

Skelton was born after termination, but says it damaged his family.

"I personally blame termination for the loss of my aunts," he said.

Over a quarter-century, five of Skelton's aunts died before their 40th birthdays, with causes ranging from car accidents to drinking to murder.

They sold that land. Former U.S. Rep. Bob Smith

Many such tragedies marked the Tribe after termination. Skelton said his grandfather also died of alcoholism, made worse by the living conditions after termination.

In 1964, the annual death rate among members of the Tribe was 14 per 1,000, with two-thirds of the deaths linked to alcohol, violence or both, according to Patrick Haynal, whose doctoral work at the University of Oregon focused on the Klamath Tribe. The national annual death rate at the time was 9.4 per 1,000.

Fortunes began to change for the Klamath Tribe in the 1970s. Led by Chuck Kimbol, head of the resurrected tribal government, members of the Tribe started the political fight for restoration of the Klamath Tribe, and its reservation.

The effort for a revival wasn't new though. Almost as soon as the Klamath Tribe was abolished in 1954, its former members started talking about how to get back their land and identity.

Progress came in 1974 when a federal judge ruled that tribal members had the right to hunt, fish and gather materials from federal land that formerly lay within the Tribe's reservation boundary.

In 1986, Congress passed Public Law 99-398 to restore federal recognition of the Klamath Tribes. President Ronald Reagan sign the measure on Aug. 27, 1986.

federal government restored the Klamath Tribe as a sovereign entity. In the early 1990s the tribal government adopted the plural name "Klamath Tribes" to reflect the three ethnic groups represented in the treaty of 1864 - Klamath, Modoc and Yahooskin.

At the turn of the 21st century, however, the Tribes's goal of regaining their reservation had not been realized. Their quest for land reverberates today in the Klamath Basin's water struggle.

Understanding the status of the Tribes today requires an understanding of how relations between Indians and the United States have changed in the last half century.

After trying to cut paternal ties from tribes and integrate American Indians into society as a whole during the termination era in the 1950s, the federal government did an about-face in the 1970s. Instead of prompting American Indians to blend into society, the government encouraged tribal members to direct their energy into the tribe and work toward economic self-sufficiency.

The movement toward self-determination went all the way to the top of the American political structure.

In a 1970 speech before Congress, President Richard Nixon said:

"This policy of termination is wrong ... because termination is morally and legally unacceptable, because it produces bad results ... I am asking the Congress to pass a new concurrent resolution which would expressly renounce, repudiate and repeal the termination policy."

The Klamath Tribes were given a role model in restoration when the Menominee Tribe of Wisconsin was restored in 1974. The Klamath Tribes and the Menominees were the largest tribes terminated in 1954, and the Menominees won back tribal status through political activism.

Decades after their termination, members of the Menominee tribe joined together to form a new tribal organization called the Determination of Rights and Unity for Menominee Shareholders, or DRUMS. With a strong political voice, the group is considered by scholars to have been instrumental in the enactment of the Menominee Restoration Act on Dec. 22, 1973; the restoration of the tribe; and re-establishment of much of its former reservation.

Congress put an official end to the termination era with the Indian Self-Determination Act of 1975. The act set a new policy: The federal government would help tribes find their own means of support without cutting the bonds between the two governments.

Capitalizing on the shift in the political landscape, the members of the Klamath Tribes went to court to regain rights, and tribal sovereignty. They downplayed land acquisition so as not to lose support from politicians for their effort.

"Ours was very political, and trying to include any part of land at that time might have hung up our process," said Chuck Kimbol, who led tribal members first unofficially and then as chairman of their resurrected government.

For 14 years after the termination checks were passed out by the federal government, from 1961 to 1975, there were no formal tribal government meetings. Their government was gone. But there had been informal gatherings for years, with Kimbol emerging as the leader.

In 1973, Kimbol and other informal tribal leaders went to U.S. District Court in Portland to argue that although their tribal status was terminated in 1954, their hunting and fishing rights spelled out in the treaty of 1864 were not.

They won in 1974, and treaty rights were restored to all members of the Tribes whose names were on the final roll of 1954. Those rights were extended to their descendants in 1976.

The state of Oregon appealed the case, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the decision in 1979.

After the initial ruling, a Klamath tribal government was convened to administer the treaty rights, and the first General Council, or meeting of the Tribes general membership, was held in in 1975. An election for a new executive committee was held soon after, and Kimbol was elected chairman.

In a separate court case concerning water rights started in the 1970s, a judge declared the Tribes have rights dating from "time immemorial," or from the beginning. The ruling makes their claim to water superior to all others in the Basin.

The ruling, however, did not specify how much water was needed to satisfy the Tribe's claim. The state of Oregon's adjudication of water rights - determining who gets how much under what circumstances - remains unresolved. The priority date, though, gives the Tribes a trump card they could use in their current bid for land.

But as the Klamath Tribe sought restoration of its tribal status, it didn't push for land.

U.S. Rep. Bob Smith, a Republican who served much of the 1980s and '90s, worked to get the tribes restored. He said he wanted to make sure tribal members had adequate health care. From the time of termination to the mid-1980s, the Tribes suffered from the death of many children and their life spans were about half the national average.

With restoration achieved, the Klamath Tribes saw federal money flowing into their coffers to be used for health, education, administration and other services.

Smith, though, drew the line at restoring a reservation.

"They sold that land," he said in a February 2004 interview with the Herald and News.

In all, the federal government had paid withdrawing and remaining members of the Tribes about $209 million for the land in a series of payments to various groups starting in 1961 and ending in 1980.

Kimbol, then-chairman of the Klamath Tribe, said Smith was good to work with, but firm on the land question.

"He was all right, as long as we didn't mention land," Kimbol said.

Still, land was the Tribes's quiet ambition.

"If you build a business," Kimbol said, "you are going to buy a piece of land."

A restored reservation emerged as the centerpiece of a self-sufficiency plan the Tribes unveiled in 2000. The Tribes were required to develop the plan under the restoration law passed in 1986.

"The Tribes have expended time, energy, and money in the development of this economic self sufficiency plan and are prepared to expend much more in carrying it out," tribal officials said in the plan's prologue.

"But first we must regain all federally owned former reservation lands. The land is the key not only for the Tribes's economic survival, but also for the mental, physical, and spiritual health for all members of the Klamath, Modoc, and Yahooskin Band of Snake Indians. Without the return of the land we are saying that the mistake of termination was acceptable."

Talks between the Tribes and the U.S. Department of the Interior started in earnest in 2002, but they have yet to produce an agreement, and no meetings have occurred in recent months.

The Tribes have publicly talked about plans to regain 690,000 acres of timberland that is now part of the Fremont-Winema National Forests. Their leaders have also talked privately about raising the request to 730,000, adding the Klamath Marsh National Wildlife Refuge near the headwaters of the Williamson River.

The idea of a restored reservation for the Klamath Tribes hasn't set well with many around the Klamath Basin, especially those who live near, play in or work on the federal land that the Tribes want for a reservation. The notion has ignited fiery debate and motivated protesters to pick up picket signs and rally outside of meetings believed to house negotiations concerning a land return.





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