Ambitious deal aims to heal two tribes' rift
By David Whitney -- Bee
At stake in the proposal Rep.
Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, hopes to introduce in Congress next month are more
than 155,000 acres of the
In addition, the plan also calls for the roughly $100 million in federal spending to upgrade roads and bridges, water treatment systems, power lines, housing, tribal centers and economic development programs. That doesn't include the money it would take to buy the Simpson Lumber land.
If the deal is approved, the
Yurok Tribe would gain forest lands capable of sustained production of 11
million board-feet of timber a year, and tourism facilities that could draw on
access to tribally owned redwood forests and
"Our intention here is to provide for an adequate land base for the Yurok Tribe," said executive director Troy Fletcher. "Eighty percent of the reservation is now without electricity or telephones. We have the only one-lane highway in the state. Pretty much the things people take for granted we don't have. We have a tremendous amount of need."
While there is agreement that something more needs to be tried to bring the Hoopa and Yurok tribes together, the federal assistance sought by the deal for the 4,700-member Yurok Tribe has skeptics among its dearest advocates.
"I don't think this is going to be easy," Thompson said. "But this situation has got to be fixed. Just because this will be tough is no reason to let this situation fester."
"They are shooting pretty high," said Thomas Schlosser, the Hoopa tribe's longtime lawyer. "Whether this is doable remains to be seen."
The proposal is the most ambitious effort yet to settle differences between the Yurok and Hoopa tribes over the division of logging revenues dating back to the 1950s. Even if the Yuroks' tribal restoration bill is approved, the underlying money fight between the two tribes will remain for Congress to fix another day.
Until 1988, the two tribes
shared the same reservation, and it includes some of the most spectacular
country in the state. The Hoopa's traditional
territory was along the
When the federal government disbursed proceeds from aggressive logging on the Hoopa's traditional grounds, the money went to Hoopa tribal members. The unorganized Yuroks filed suit, and the tensions began to escalate.
The 1988 division of the reservation was part of Congress' first effort to quell the bad blood. The Yuroks' traditional lands became a separate reservation for them, and they received help to organize a tribal government. They also were promised half of a $70 million pot of escrowed logging proceeds for economic development if they refrained from further lawsuits.
But the new tribe came to believe that it had not been treated fairly in that bargain. The 58,000-acre reservation it received was now largely owned by non-Indians who, over the course of many generations and under discredited federal Indian policy, had bought for a pittance Yurok lands where once stood magnificent stands of giant redwoods.
The Klamath River salmon runs that Congress thought would become the backbone of an economy for the young Yurok Tribe instead turned into a disaster as upstream agriculture claimed more and more water from the Klamath and once-teeming salmon runs dwindled as stocks landed on the endangered species list.
So the Yurok sued, losing their access to the $35 million economic development fund while the Hoopa tribe converted its $35 million entitlement under the 1988 settlement into new opportunities for prosperity.
The Yurok share of the fund has grown to more than $70 million, and the Interior Department in 2001 was called upon to declare what it thought should be done with it. Not surprisingly, both tribes want the money for themselves.
The department's report was presented at a Senate Indian Affairs Committee hearing that was so acrimonious that, at the conclusion, tribal leaders were so angry they refused to shake hands.
In an effort to put an end to the feuding, the committee urged the involvement of a mediator to help the two tribes wade through their differences. The legislation Thompson will introduce is the product of that yearlong mediation process.
Schlosser said the involvement of a professional mediator gave the tribes a neutral setting to "listen to each other." And what became abundantly clear, he said, is that until the Yurok Tribe's feeling that it has been "victimized" by the Hoopa and the federal government is remedied, there is little chance of the two tribes achieving peace.
"Until the Yurok Tribe gets some of their traditional land back, they are not going to feel right with the world," he said. "It is certainly in the interest of the Hoopa that the Yurok be successful in this legislation."
Authorizing as much money as the Yuroks are seeking will be difficult on Capitol Hill, given the efforts to trim spending and control skyrocketing deficits.
About the Writer
The Bee's David Whitney can be reached at (202) 383-0004 or firstname.lastname@example.org.