Klamath Tribal Members Refuse to Support Water Settlement
April 2, 2015 (Upper Klamath Basin, Oregon)
All across the United States, on the west coast in particular, Indian water settlements are taking place at a rampant rate. The Bureau of Reclamation, a branch of the Department of the Interior, is securing water reserves for the best interest of the United States, predominately the industrialized agricultural economy.
Though recent statements made by agricultural parties have been supportive of water agreements because farmers help “feed the world”, the truth is the meat raised specifically in the Klamath Basin does not feed the local community, adds to the carbon footprint and degrades Indigenous habitat utilized for cultural, spiritual and substance purposes.
“To date, twenty-eight settlements have achieved a federal settlement act and are involved in implementation. Sixteen settlements are in progress with two, the Blackfeet Water Rights Settlement of 2011 (Montana), S.399/H.R 3301, and the Navajo-Hopi Little Colorado River Water Settlement (Arizona), S.2109/H.R. 4067 having been introduced in the 112th Congress. Many more tribes’ water rights remain to be addressed, including tribes with claims on the Colorado River, the more than 100 California tribes with federal recognition, the Oklahoma tribes which share two rivers and many more in the Midwest, East, Alaska and Hawaii.”
Darcy S. Bushnell, Ombudsman Program Director
Recently, we have witnessed local water settlements of the Nez Perce Tribe (Snake River basin adjudication), Yakama Nation, Confederated Tribes of Umatilla, Confederated Tribes of the Colville, Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, Shoshone-Bannock Tribes and The Kalispel Tribe of Indians (Columbia Basin Fish Accords)
The most current settlement is the signing of the Duck Valley Shoshone-Paiute Water Rights Settlement at the end of February 2015.
Simultaneously, in the Klamath Basin, the Klamath Tribes, Karuk Tribe and Yurok Tribe have also entered into water negotiations known as the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement and associated documents. Whereas, Hoopa Valley, Risighini Rancheria, and Quartz Valley refused to be signatory parties to this agreement.
Signatory tribes, such as the Klamath, Yurok, and Karuk Tribes have hailed the agreements as a path toward dam removal and fisheries restoration. Through the KBRA and Upper Basin agreement those Basin Tribes with water rights, or which have advocated for Salmon, have been promised funding for restoration and economic development in exchange for not pressing for increased flows in the Klamath River.
Particularly in the Columbia Basin Fish Accords, there was a catch that has been a trend in other local water settlements. According to an article published in High Country News by Ben Goldfarb December 8th 2014, signatories had to stop fighting the biological opinion (KID BiOp), which the tribes had attacked in court for it’s failure to help fish. They also agreed not to advocate for dam breaching or an increased spill- water that’s allowed to flow over dams, rather than through the turbines to help juvenile fish survive their trip downriver.
“My reaction was that (the Accords) were bribes,” said Michael Blumm, a professor at Lewis & Clark law school.
In these Indigenous territories, Native peoples are witnessing a theft of our sacred, priceless life source. Throughout our history and relationship with the federal government, the Department of Interior/Bureau of Indian Affairs has thrown their trust responsibility, a fiduciary duty, to the wayside to execute the federal agenda.
Land, timber, gold, oil, gas, uranium, furs, children and now our irreplaceable water have all been vied after by the United States and associated parties. Prosperity, sovereignty, self sufficiency, and economic development have all been promises made to Native peoples, promises that have never been fulfilled according to our local history.
Specifically in the Klamath Basin, Klamath tribal members have been silenced by tribal water negotiators and tribal elected officials in order to proceed with a water settlement since negotiations began in the early 2000’s.
Although legislation expired December 31st 2014 in the House, Klamath Tribes chairman Don Gentry and the Klamath Tribes negotiation team have proceeded with these agreements without consent of Tribal members. In order to proceed once legislation was reintroduced in January by Senator Wyden, tribal negotiators had to be granted consent by tribal membership, which did not take place.
Since the recent sale of the Mazama Tree Farm, Klamath Tribes elected officals have been in meetings with the US Forest Service in hopes to acquire a new parcel of land to replace the recently sold MTF.
Four new land alternatives offered by the USFS have come into discussion, though no consent of Klamath Tribes General Council regarding new land acqusition has been granted. These options include parcels referred to as the Chiloquin Ridge, Remaining Members, South Klamath Marsh, and Yamsay Block options.
Potential options were set to be discussed amongst tribal members at the March 21st “special” general council meeting in Chiloquin, Oregon but due to unforeseen circumstances the meeting was adjourned. Which again, has given no opportunity for Klamath Tribes General Council to grant consent to any further action of tribal negotiators or tribal elected officials.
Unbeknownst to tribal membership, on Monday March 23rd Klamath Tribes chairman Don Gentry testified at a hearing in Salem, Oregon before the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee claiming that the Klamath Tribes offer their support for senate bills 206 and 264 as amended, though tribal members are not aware these senate bills exist.
After the March 23rd meeting in Salem, individual tribal members contacted the Chair of the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee, Chris Edwards by email to make him aware that General Council as the governing body of the Klamath Tribes has not granted consent to chairman Gentry to testify in support of these senate bills. And since tribal members were not aware that this meeting took place, they were not given the opportunity to have their statements be part of the official record regarding Senate bills 206 and 264.
As of Monday March 30th, two enrolled members of the Klamath Tribe received confirmation from Tiffany Telfer, Senator Edwards Communications Director in Salem, that their emails have in fact been passed along to Senator Edwards.
“The General Council has been poorly informed of Senate Bill 206 and 264, literally none of my family members even heard of these. I feel Klamath Tribal council and the Klamath Tribes negotiation team do not handle the day to day business of our Tribal people. Many have not been informed of most of these agreements and for those of us that have we do not agree with them.”
Racheal Kirk, Klamath Tribal member
At the last General Council meeting February 28th 2015, Klamath Tribes General Council made a motion to file a Dispute Initiation Notice and Notice of Impending Failure in hopes to reserve their right to withdraw from the KBRA and associated agreements.
These two documents gave Klamath tribes negotiators and KBRA parties a 30 day deadline to either agree on a new parcel of land or make an amendment to the KBRA, pending the approval of Klamath Tribes General Council, which has not taken place.
Monday March 30th 2015 was the final day for the Klamath Tribes and associated parties to find a “remedy” to the failure of the acquisition of the Mazama Tree Farm.
Allegedly, Senator Merkley is now actively moving a Winema National Forest land transfer proposal, working with Senator Greg Walden, in a desperate effort to keep the Klamath Tribes signed on to the KBRA.
Though this would be prime opportunity to initiate the withdrawal process, as many tribal members would like to see, it is clear that the Klamath Tribes negotiation team will attempt to proceed with the agreements at any cost, even at the expense of the rights of their own tribal members.
“Not being informed on what I am supposed to know by Tribal council is heartbreaking to me and the generations not yet born. This proves how us as Tribal members are not in our elected leaders best interest. It has been this way since the beginning of this so called agreement. Even our most educated tribal members are brainwashed into agreeing with Tribal council and aren’t aware of the manipulation taking place. Our elected officials are full of empty promises.”
Rowena Jackson, Klamath Tribal member
Klamath Tribal Council held a “closed” work session Monday March 30th, where no tribal members were allowed to attend. Countless decisions have been made in secrecy with the excuse of “confidentiality” and “sensitive issues”, leaving tribal membership in the dark on issues they are expected to vote and make informed decisions upon.
Many tribal members have more recently expressed they would like to see the Klamath Tribes withdraw from the controversial “Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement” and associated documents as it has caused internal conflict and a separation amongst tribal membership.
Although the actions of Klamath tribal negotiators and elected officials are yet to be determined, there is a serious abuse of power at play within the Klamath Tribes government that many tribal members hope to see come to an end sooner than later.
In a time where Indigenous people across the world are witnessing the theft of our sacred resources it has never been more urgent to protect that which is vital to our existence as Tribal peoples. Without our sacred water, we cease to be a people.
Honor The Treaty of 1864 is a group of like minded individuals who want to honor our ancestors and our 7th generation by protecting our resources and our rights. While these ideas are not new and many people before us stood for the same things we do, our group was officially formed in 2014. We welcome all people who support our cause.