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Yurok addresses settlement money

June 26, 2007 by Hilary Corrigan, The Daily Triplicate

More than 70 Yurok tribal members gathered Sunday to discuss the tribe's future in an attempt to plan for a recently acquired settlement fund.

"We're talking about how to spend $90 million," said Troy Fletcher, a Yurok Tribe member who led the meeting as tribal council sought public input. "Council's asking you: How should the money be spent?"

Nearly all called for at least some individual payments to tribal members.

Many also called for investments and endowments to fund education, land acquisition and monthly stipends for elders. They pointed to concerns on the reservation education, housing, health insurance, facilities and health care for elders, treatment for drug and alcohol abuse and to similar needs of members who live off the reservation.

Walt Lara Sr., a tribal forestry department worker, asked the tribe to treat the fund as a sustainable yield forestry plan treats a stand of trees with the goal of growing it.

Lara suggested investing $30 million, distributing $30 million in payments to members, funding tribal programs with $30 million and using the rest for land acquisition.

"Don't forget your children's children," Lara said, paraphrasing the Constitution that calls for sustaining the tribe. "And on and on forever."

The more than $92 million fund, mostly invested in U.S. government bonds, stems from the 1988 Hoopa Yurok Settlement Act that split resources and timber funds between the two tribes. The Yurok Tribe disputed the terms and fought for the funds for nearly two decades until the U.S. Department of the Interior in March approved the tribe's claim on the money that has grown from an original $52 million.

After another public input meeting for tribal members, the council will draft a plan and review it with members before putting it on an October election ballot during a vote for three council seats. The plan requires a majority vote from the approximately 3,700 registered voters in the approximately 5,100-member tribe.

"We want to hear from the people, all of them," said Tribal Council Vice Chairwoman Bonnie Green.

Several tribal members questioned council leadership and previous department projects, complaining of a lack of services and information.

"That money is better spent by me as an individual," member David Severns said.

Elders living on about $400 per month called for direct payments, as did Humboldt State University student David Gensaw Sr.

"These guys, they've had their chance to do something for us," Gensaw said of the tribal council.

Council Chairwoman Maria Tripp admitted the tribe's inability to provide much for those who do not meet low-income restrictions on grant money and other funds.

"There's very little that's not income-based," Tripp said of the tribe's income that funds tribal services. "We don't have access to dollars to do a lot of things."

But Annelia Norris called the fund a chance to further develop the tribe including government structure, members' participation, school system, community services and how members care for one another.

"We are never going to be truly a sovereign nation as long as we are dependent upon federal grants from the United States of America," said Norris, who works at the Klamath River Early College of the Redwoods. "We really need to think about how we can be self-sufficient."

Norris also supported some individual payments, noting her own falling-apart car.

"I think everybody should get a little bit," she said, adding that the money could also benefit future generations, partly by funding education. "We have an opportunity to take care of each other."

Reach Hilary Corrigan at hcorrigan@triplicate.com.

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