Klamath People, Destructive KBRA Politics and the Spiritual Battle for Water (press release)

Below is a press release from Honor the Treaty of 1864 delving into the complex issues of salmon, land, water and the Klamath Tribe.

Klamath People, Destructive KBRA Politics and the Spiritual Battle for Water

April 30th, 2015 (Upper Klamath Basin, Oregon) 

The Klamath Basin riddled with complex water issues, has yet another aspect few are aware of.

The Klamath people, their culture and spirituality are at high risk, with politics taking priority over individual tribal members inherent rights and the rights of resources and species that are integral to their Indigenous lifestyle.

In an article written by Andrea Smith in April 2013, she offers us insight into varying perspectives on the definition of sovereignty.

“Whereas nation-states are governed through domination and coercion, Indigenous sovereignty and nationhood is predicated on interrelatedness and responsibility.”

As Sharon Venne explains, “Our spirituality and our responsibilities define our duties. We understand the concept of sovereignty as woven through a fabric that encompasses our spirituality and responsibility. 

This is a cyclical view of sovereignty, incorporating it into our traditional philosophy and view of our responsibilities. It differs greatly from the concept of Western sovereignty which is based upon absolute power. 

For us absolute power is in the Creator and the natural order of all living things; not only in human beings… 

Our sovereignty is related to our connections to the earth and is inherent.” 

Although a government entity may be tribal, unfortunately does not mean they are advocates for the environment, spirituality or their people.

The controversial Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement (KBRA) and associated documents do not appropriately advocate for resources that are necessary for the survival of Klamath, Modoc, Yahooskin culture and have also proven to be damaging to personal relationships within the tribe.

Many tribal members no longer have contact with family and close friends over divisive and destructive KBRA politics.

Others have been denied tribal employment based solely on their stance regarding the dubious Klamath Basin water agreements.

The Klamath tribal council and “water team”, otherwise known as the Klamath Tribes negotiation team (KTNT), claim the KBRA and associated agreements are a reconciliation to help heal old wounds within the Basin.

Contrary to these claims made by elected officials, tribal members are seeing anything but healing.

Water is a necessity for the survival of Klamath culture and spirituality. And as other parties to the agreements needs are met, the Klamath people and their concerns have been continuously neglected.

Last Saturday, April 25th 2015, the Klamath Tribes held a “special” general council meeting that was a closed session in Chiloquin, OR. More than 100 tribal members were in attendance.

According to attendees, not one person stood up and spoke in support of the water agreements. Once again, many tribal members vocalized the desire to withdraw from the KBRA and associated agreements entirely.

The following Tuesday the Herald and News, a publication in Klamath Falls, Oregon, released statements from Chairman Donald Gentry regarding Saturdays meeting that was supposed to remain “confidential”.

According to the Herald and News, Chairman Gentry said he is “hopeful discussions and legislation will keep moving forward.”

Gentry continues to claim that, “although a replacement parcel for the Mazama Forest hasn’t been identified, members have not indicated that the Tribes should pull out of the complex water agreement. To do so, the tribes have to proceed with an agreement termination process, and no such motion was made.”

General Council meetings commence at 10 am and frequently do not adjourn until 5 pm or after. By the afternoon, it is not uncommon for the General Council to lose a quorum, which consists of 50 enrolled members of the Klamath Tribes (over the age of 18) or more.

Meeting attendees state that a motion to proceed with an agreement termination process was not made due to a loss of a quorum in the afternoon. The meeting was in a closed session which also limits the actions members can take.

In the wake of the loss of the Mazama Tree Farm land acquisition, draft legislation is now being proposed by Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley to acquire a new parcel in a desperate attempt to keep the Klamath Tribes signed onto the KBRA.

The potential parcels under consideration are currently part of the Fremont-Winema National Forest. Wyden and Merkley are allegedly working to gain the support of Congressman Greg Walden. Without republican backing, new land acquisition and these water agreements cannot proceed.

A conservation organization known as Oregon Wild who represents approximately 15,000 members and supporters of Oregon have been concerned about the environmental impacts of the KBRA. They have advocated for the wildlife refuges that have been neglected by the Bureau of Reclamation and signatory tribes, among other resources that are not properly represented within these agreements.

The wildlife refuges and marshlands, which were once parts of the former Klamath reservation (pre-termination), are gathering areas for basket making materials, as well as home to one of the main traditional food staples of the Klamath people, Wocus.

Bald eagles take refuge in these areas along with migratory birds that also utilize these areas on their seasonal flight routes.

Due to over consumption by the agricultural industry, we are not only witnessing fish kills from artificially low water flows but also bird kills and the rapid spread of diseases amongst various species.

The KBRA secures water primarily for agricultural purposes, meanwhile neglecting other resources that are in desperate need for advocacy.

Though the Klamath Tribes Treaty of 1864 is supposed to protect these other resources, Klamath tribal negotiators have turned a blind eye to resources that are vital to the continuance of Klamath culture and spirituality.

An article published by the Oregonian last Friday stated Oregon Wild opposes the sale, citing worries about diminished public access and concerns that tribal ownership could result in logging and other industry-related habitat loss.”

Oregon Wild Conservation Director Steve Pedery states “There was a tremendous mistake made in the 1950s, but the problem is 60 years have passed and this forest today has value for a tremendous range of things from ecological reasons to economic and recreational ones,” 

Though the Klamath Tribes do have a Forest Management plan that was drafted in 2008, when asked how the tribes propose to manage a new parcel of land for economic development the only statements that have been given include logging and constructing a mill.

Statements such as these can be viewed as problematic to individuals who would like to see the environment and resources protected.

As previously stated, just because a government entity is tribal unfortunately does not imply they are environmental advocates or defenders.

In 1996 the Coquille Tribe was given 5,100 acres of former ancestral land. The 5,100 acre Coquille Forest, in Oregon’s Coastal Mountain Range, had been Coos Bay BLM land. It was given to the tribe to manage under the same environmental laws as the BLM’s public lands. The lands have since been clearcut by the tribe for economic development.

Klamath Tribal chairman Donald Gentry has made recent statements to tribal membership and the public abroad, using divisive language to portray Oregon Wild as “adversarial” to the tribes.

Oregon Wild Executive Director Sean Stevens submitted a letter to Klamath Tribes tribal council on April 22nd, 2015 regarding the proposed land transfer.

Contrary to Gentry’s claims, the letter on behalf of Oregon Wild’s 15,000 members and supporters, respectfully outlines the various reasons why Oregon Wild cannot support this particular land transfer but still offers alternative options and support.

Their reasons for not supporting the land transfer include loss of public access and recreation, lack of public oversight, removal of environmental safeguards, and desire to maintain America’s public lands network.

Stevens continues to state, “while we are deeply concerned about proposals to dispose of Fremont-Winema National Forest lands, Oregon Wild remains supportive of The Klamath Tribes efforts to re-establish a land base, restore fish and wildlife, and develop sustainable economic opportunities. 

We believe there are a number of other possibilities that would help advance these goals that should be given priority over the transfer of American public lands out of public ownership.” 

Alternatives for this particular land transfer include acquisition of private lands, co-operative management, preference in contracting, and a tribal restoration fund.

Stevens concludes by stating, “Oregon Wild recognizes the ugly history of the federal policy of tribal termination, and the role it played in the establishment of some portions of the Fremont-Winema National Forest and Klamath Marsh National Wildlife Refuge. 

However, we believe the removal of some or all of the National Forest fromAmerica’s public lands system would create unnecessary and unproductive conflict. There are better andmore attainable ways for The Klamath Tribes to achieve a land base, environmental restoration, andeconomic self-sufficiency.

Though we have at times been in conflict over the disposal of the Fremont-Winema National Forest, Oregon Wild and The Klamath Tribes have a long history of working together for the betterment of the Klamath Basin’s fish and wildlife resources, public lands, and waters. 

We stand ready to work with the Tribes again to resolve the land base issue without removing the Fremont-Winema from America’s system of public lands.”

The full letter is available to view online here.

In an e-blast sent April 28th, 2015 by Klamath Tribes public information and news manager Taylor Tupper-David, Klamath Tribal council and the “water team” endorsed a letter from alleged tribal member David Hill of Portland to representatives of Oregon Wild.

This letter and endorsement has since been posted to the Klamath Tribes website and shared on the Klamath Tribes Official social media page for public view.

Hills letter contains contentious language, that many believe to be counterproductive to healthy relations with others outside and within the tribe.

Hill’s letter states, “I see the problem is that Oregon Wild fails to see the huge environmental justice issue here.  Are you really willing to join a sordid list of Euro-American transgressions against the original inhabitants of this land?  It looks like you are.  You are pitching in with “volunteers” who hunted the Indians like animals in the 1800s, with “settlers” who stole their lands, with “government” thugs who continued to steal and sell their land, e.

If you continue with this extremely insensitive stance, you are putting your credibility at great risk.  It is unacceptable for the dominant white culture to continue screwing and stealing and standing in the way of tribes, and it is unacceptable that Oregon Wild would join in this long and nauseating, immoral pattern.

To not let them (the tribe) hold and manage these lands sustainably is a great racist act. Please do not be part of it.”

The accusatory, inflammatory language found in Hill’s letter can be extremely damaging to relationships that could help provide solutions to some of these complex issues. And the fact that this letter is endorsed by the Klamath Tribal council and “water team” is even further disturbing, unprofessional, and unproductive.

“Conservation groups and tribes with the same focus and missions of restoring and protecting lands should not be pit against each other.

This is yet another divisive move in the favor of the US Government to not be accountable for termination era practices that have resulted in loss of our subsistence lands and treaty resources. 

Subsequently, these practices have resulted in the destruction of our river ways and ecosystem.” 

-David M. Ochoa, Klamath Tribal member

Last week a water call was made by the Klamath Tribes. Their call will help habitat in the Sprague, Wood and Sycan rivers and it will briefly raise the Upper Klamath Lake level before the Klamath Irrigation District diverts it at the A canal.

To the extent suckers are up in the tributaries, the call may help them.

However, the call will not help salmon or the wildlife refuges.

Ironically, the Klamath Tribes will be participating in a 260 mile run for the salmon that will conclude in Chiloquin on June 1st.

In the fall of 2002, 68,000 salmon died from artificially low water levels in the Klamath River.

In response to the devastating Klamath fish kill, to raise awareness of the plight of the salmon and promote health within their community, youth of Hoopa Valley and the Yurok Tribe at Hoopa Valley High School began the Great Salmon Run of the Klamath and Trinity Rivers on May 27th 2005. The original run began at the mouth of the Klamath River and ended at the south fork of the Trinity.

The run is completed in two mile segments. Each person who participates contributes two miles while carrying a baton in the shape of a salmon.

“The salmon’s struggles are our struggles. For that short little run we take on their struggle.”

“A lot of people may have read newspapers or may have seen the pictures. 

That speaks for itself, but in the same sense you need to know the facts behind that. 

You need to know what caused it so that it can be prevented.”

-Erika Chase, Salmon run co-founder

From the beginning, participants have acknowledged spiritual practices and places alongside the activity of running. For instance, at the conclusion of the run, a salmon is ceremonially cooked and then eaten by designated persons.

Remembering former First Salmon ceremonies, eaters commit to not eating salmon for a year as medicine for the continuance of the salmon.

Statements made by Chairman Gentry regarding the state of the Klamath salmon claim that having the salmon gone has hurt the tribes economically because they have to buy salmon instead of fish for it.

However, the Klamath Tribes are actually struggling economically due to financial mismanagement within the tribal government.

Though Klamath people have not seen salmon in the Upper Klamath Basin in almost 100 years, the people continue to barter with tribes down river to maintain a connection to salmon in the basin. This also helps strengthen relationships between tribal communities along the river, as it has historically always been.

Unfortunately, the Klamath Tribes involvement in this years salmon run is merely for political advocacy. Tribal elected officials have been manipulating the original spiritual intention of the salmon run to gain support for Senate Bill 133, the KBRA, and associated documents.

It is disconcerting to witness the commercialization of a spiritual ceremony for political purposes.

“As a co-founder of the Salmon Run, I am for dam removal and against the KBRA. 

I would feel bad if someone felt they couldn’t participate because of any particular runner or coordinator’s stance on the KBRA. 

The run was founded by youth of different tribes in response to the fish kill in 2002 before the KBRA, and has also always supported non-Indian participation as well.”

-Kayla Carpenter, Salmon run co-founder and Hoopa Valley tribal member

The KBRA does nothing to heal historical and spiritual damages for Klamath, Modoc, Yahooskin people. By securing water primarily for agricultural purposes, the KBRA and associated documents perpetuate these damages and continue to inflict pain, trauma and division amongst our people.

As we enter into the summer drought season, there are many issues that defenders of our sacred water must prepare for and endure.

These issues are political, but most importantly spiritual.

The fight to defend our sacred water, our life source, is above all else a spiritual battle.

Outside forces will try to divide us, discourage us, and break our spirits.

But as tribal members and descendants of the Klamath Tribes, we refuse to tolerate, support or indulge in divisive language, behavior and actions.

The fate of our sacred water is in our hands.

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.