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Yuroks to receive disputed $90 million fund

John Driscoll/The Times-Standard 3/02/2007

Interior Department goes against Hoopa arguments over settlement act

A massive fund in dispute for two decades will likely be released entirely to the Yurok Tribe, possibly ending the Hoopa Valley Tribe's hope that the $90 million might be split.

The U.S. Interior Department on Thursday decided that the money it held in trust under the Hoopa-Yurok Settlement Act belongs with the Yuroks. The money comes from timber sales on the Hoopa Reservation, which was split in 1988.

The Yuroks have long held that it should be compensated because its share of the reservation, a narrow swath of mostly privately owned land on either side of the Klamath River below Weitchpec, doesn't give them access to rich timber like that on the Hoopa Reservation.

”With this issue finally resolved, Yurok and Hoopa can put our differences aside,” said Yurok Chairwoman Maria Tripp in a statement. “I am excited at the opportunity we have to work together, heal old wounds, and build a prosperous and healthy community in a spirit of mutual cooperation.”

Hoopa Chairman Clifford Lyle Marshall was traveling Thursday and was unable to be reached for comment.

In a letter to the tribes from Ross Swimmer,

Special Trustee for American Indians, the department writes that the Yurok Tribe can still submit an unconditional waiver of claims against the government. Once the tribe does that, Swimmer writes, the money will be released to the tribe. The decision is a turnaround from the Interior Department's earlier stance that because the Yurok Tribe sued over the settlement act, it forfeited its right to the funds. But Interior also held that the Hoopa Tribe was entitled to no more money than it had already received years ago -- about $34 million.

In the Thursday letter, Swimmer writes that there is no time limit on the Yurok Tribe's being able to provide a waiver of its claims, unlike the argument the Hoopa Tribe made that the settlement act's authority has expired.

”Fundamentally, nothing in the act states that the Yurok Tribe's choosing to litigate its takings claim would cause the tribe to forfeit the benefits under the act,” Swimmer wrote.

Tripp said that the Yurok Tribal Council will develop a strategy to use the money, and that any final plan would be voted on by the tribe's members.

John Driscoll can be reached at 441-0504 or jdriscoll@times-standard.com.

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