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What is the Modoc Tribe of Oklahoma? Tribe in negotiations to purchase Tulelake Airport

The Modoc Tribe of Oklahoma has been making its presence felt in the Klamath and Tulelake basins over the past year by purchasing land, opposing re-designation of Lava Beds National Monument as a national park and being in ongoing discussions with the city of Tulelake to buy the Tulelake Airport.

Descendants of Kintpuash

The Modoc Tribe of Oklahoma is a federally recognized tribe with about 300 members. It is the smallest tribe in Oklahoma and is located in Ottawa County in the northeast corner of the state.

Tribal members are descendants of Kintpuash’s, also known as Captain Jack, band of Modoc people who were removed as prisoners of war following the end of the 1872-73 Modoc War. On Oct. 12, 1873, 155 Modocs — 42 men, 59 women and 54 children — were taken by train to the Quapaw Indian Reservation in Indian Territory, which is now Oklahoma. After six years, their population shrank to 99 and by 1891 to 68. In recent years, however, the number of enrollees has rebounded.

In the 1950s, the federally recognized status of the Klamath Tribes, which includes Modoc and Yahooskin people, was terminated, which ended federal assistance. The Modoc Tribe of Oklahoma reorganized independently and gained federal recognition in 1978.

The tribe, led for the past 40-plus years by Chief Bill G. Follis and based in Miami, Okla., has established the Stables Casino, Red Cedar Recycling, reintroduced a bison herd and pursued other business ventures, including participation a controversial payday loan program, as a part of the Tribe’s economic development plan.

According to its website, the tribe offers a variety of programs that benefit tribal members. The tribe’s website says a Modoc land base is being reestablished near the Modoc Mission Church and Cemetery in Ottawa County.

Tribal return

Chief Follis has said the tribal council “is currently working to return to the (Tulelake-Lava Beds) area, with the initiative of investing in the local rural communities by establishing businesses and tribal offices for the promotion of job creation and economic development.

“Our current economic footprint spans over 150 jobs in Oklahoma, Kansas, Illinois, Utah and Texas and we contribute significant sums annually throughout the local communities the Tribe is involved in.”

In 2017 the Tulelake Basin, the tribe purchased 800 acres of private land near Lava Beds National Monument.

In an interview last year, Blake Follis, Bill Follis’s grandson who is a member of the tribal council and the tribe’s attorney, said the tribe will determine uses for the property but has declined to comment since then.

The purchase price for the acreage, also known as the Fleener Ranch, located north and west of the park, was $250,000. No discussions on future use of the property was held at the tribe’s annual meeting in May, according to Cheewa James, a tribal member who was in attendance.

Historically, the land was known as the Fleener Homestead and was owned by Sam Fleener, who served as a teamster during the Modoc War. Fleener’s Chimney, a group of volcanic vents and spatter cones within the Lava Beds, is named for Fleener.


Until the sale, the property had been owned by the O’Keeffe family since 1929. A well provides water for about 160 acres while the rest of the land is sagebrush, juniper and lava rock. Most of the land is surrounded by national forest.

Airport negotiations

More recently, the tribe has been in negotiations with the city of Tulelake on the possible purchase of the Tulelake Airport, which is on land that was part of the World War II era Tule Lake Detention-Segregation Center. Discussions have been held in closed executive sessions, but any possible action will require two public hearings before any decisions are made. In 2011, the Modoc Tribe created a business, Modoc Aviation, Inc., as part of its economic development plan.

The possible sale may be complicated by the 1951 patent that deeded 359 acres of the former Tule Lake center to the city of Tulelake and stipulates the land be used as an airport. The patent says the property “shall automatically revert to the United States ... in the event the lands in question are not developed, or cease to be used for airport purposes.” It also states “such airport will be operated as a public airport.”

It also specifies, “Any subsequent transfer of the property interest conveyed hereby will be made subject to all the covenants, conditions and limitations contained in this instrument.”

In addition, the patent says, “In the event of a breach of any condition or covenant herein imposed, the Administration of Civil Aeronautics, or its successor in function, may immediately enter and possess himself of title to the here in-conveyed lands for and on behalf of the United States of America.”

The airport property is also the subject of dispute in regards to its World War II legacy. Lawsuits have been filed by the Tule Lake Committee, which includes Japanese-Americans who were incarcerated during the war at Tule Lake and their families, against the city and Modoc County in 2014 and 2017. The lawsuits claim proposals to rebuild an 8-foot-tall fence around the airport, primarily to prevent wildlife from crossing the airfield, “would contribute to the destruction of a sacred Japanese American historic site.”

Tulelake Mayor Hank Ebinger has declined comment on the possible sale of the airport because discussions have been in closed sessions.




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              Page Updated: Wednesday June 27, 2018 02:04 AM  Pacific

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