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'Ruffey' tribal recognition bill passes committee

SISKIYOU COUNTY, Calif. — A congressional bill to restore federal recognition to a Northern California tribe is headed toward final committee consideration after being approved Tuesday by the House Committee on Natural Resources.

HR 3535 is headed to the House Rules Committee and, if approved, would go to the floor of the House of Representatives. The bill is sponsored by Republican Doug LaMalfa, of California’s First Congressional District, and his office has said they anticipate bi-partisan support during a House vote.

HR 3535 was submitted by LaMalfa last July and would restore recognition to the Ruffey Rancheria, based in Siskiyou County, Calif.

The rancheria was established in 1906 and consisted of 57 Native Americans living near Etna, Calif. The tribe founded a 441-acre reservation the following year, but in 1961 Congress terminated recognition.

HR 3535 would restore recognition and allow the Ruffey Rancheria to re-establish a reservation. It would also broaden the definition of those who belong to the tribe, bringing rancheria members to an estimated 350.

Rancheria Chairman Tahj Gomes said the tribe intends to be good neighbors to existing tribes and landowners. He said they do not yet have a location in mind for a new reservation, but they are willing to cooperate with landowners and pay fair value for reservation land.

However, the bill does not sit well with tribes who believe HR 3535 is a ploy to interfere with ongoing disputes over natural resources in the region. The Karuk Tribe, headquartered in Happy Camp, Calif., claims recognition of the Ruffey Rancheria would add “chaos and confusion to long-running debates between tribes, fishermen and area farmers.”

The Karuk Tribe has accused LaMalfa of not being transparent and not responding to requests for information. Karuk Chairman Russell Attebery accused LaMalfa of rushing the bill and trying to pass it in secrecy.

LaMalfa spokesperson Parker Williams said the congressman was willing to delay the bill multiple times to allow for changes. Such amendments include a provision approved Tuesday limiting a Ruffey Rancheria reservation to Siskiyou County, which addressed concerns over the tribe potentially establishing itself elsewhere in Northern California or Oregon.

Williams said every substantive concern LaMalfa’s office received was addressed by the committee Tuesday. He also said the small population of the Ruffey Rancheria would mean their impact on neighboring tribes would likely be “negligible.”

He added LaMalfa does not want to allow “delay tactics” to stall the bill.

In a release Tuesday in response to the bill’s committee approval, the Karuk Tribe said the new changes “only made matters worse.”

“The final bill expanded the potential size of a restored reservation to exceed the original 441 acres size and now allows the new group to claim unlimited reservation lands anywhere in Siskiyou County, bypassing the administrative process other tribes must face,” said the release.

When responding to criticisms against HR 3535, Chairman Gomes said there has been a “campaign of misinformation” about both his tribe and the bill. He said his tribe has demonstrated good faith in working with neighbors and stakeholders to address concerns and he feels confident the bill will “ultimately prevail.”

“Most tribes pride themselves for not opposing other tribes’ federal acknowledgment and/or restoration, and we believe that ethic will prevail now that the amendments we requested have been adopted,” said Gomes.

He also clarified concerns about the Ruffey Rancheria building a casino and said the tribe “does not have any plans to develop or construct a gaming facility.” The Karuk Tribe opened the Rain Rock Casino in Yreka last month.




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