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Yuroks to reap $15,500 each from settlement

The windfall stems from the tribe's share of money from logging 50 years ago, plus interest.

Sacramento Bee December 8, 2007 By David Whitney - dwhitney@mcclatchydc.com

WASHINGTON Members of the Yurok Tribe in the northwest corner of California have voted themselves checks for about $15,500 apiece, dividing the bulk of a $92 million settlement in a long-standing dispute with the nearby Hoopa Valley Indian Tribe.

The settlement money was released to the Yuroks in April after the Hoopa tribe lost an appeal over its distribution before the Interior Department's Board of Indian Appeals.

In voting this week, tribal members decided between retaining half of the money for tribal use, or just 10 percent, with the remainder dispersed in checks to the 5,200 enrolled members.

Tribal spokesman Matt Mais said 1,603 of the 1,927 votes cast favored the larger per-capita distribution. The remaining 10 percent, or about $9.2 million, will be used for in-home services to tribal elders, rights protection, education and funerals, the tribe said.

"The tribal membership has given us a clear directive on how to spend the fund," tribal Chairwoman Maria Tripp said in a statement. "We are ready to begin work immediately implementing the 90/10 split."

The vote will be certified by the tribal council at a meeting Monday. Mais said checks probably won't be ready to mail out for a month or so.

At issue in the dispute was money from logging five decades ago at a time when the two tribes shared a reservation. To end the dispute, Congress passed a settlement act in 1988 that gave the Yurok their own reservation along the Klamath River.

The legislation also created a settlement fund containing the disputed logging proceeds plus some additional cash. The money was to be divided equally, but only if each tribe agreed not to sue the federal government.

The Hoopa tribe signed a waiver in 1991 and collected $34 million. But the Yuroks filed a lawsuit that dragged on until 2001, when the U.S. Supreme Court said it would not review a lower court's rejection of its lawsuit.

The Supreme Court's decision touched off another round of acrimony as the Hoopa tribe fiercely argued that the Yuroks were not entitled to the remainder of the fund, which by then had grown to $90 million with interest deposits, because they had sued.

Eventually, the Hoopa agreed to split the remaining settlement money, but the Yurok insisted it all belonged to them. The stalemate was broken earlier this year when the Interior Department abruptly reversed its long-standing position against giving the money to the Yuroks. It said there was nothing in the settlement act setting a deadline for a waiver and that the tribe still could qualify for the proceeds if it signed.

The Yurok tribal council approved a resolution in March waiving its right to sue. That month, the Board of Indian Appeals rejected the Hoopa's appeal, and on April 20, Ross Swimmer, special trustee for American Indians, ordered the money disbursed to the Yuroks.

The Hoopa's attorney, Tom Schlosser, reached in his Seattle office, declined comment on the vote, saying only that the Hoopa tribe was still exploring further avenues of appeal.

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