Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Modoc Nation makes a bid for recognition…and to protect the Modoc Homeland.

A group of about 100 Modoc Indians has broken away from the Klamath Tribes and seeks independent federal recognition. Calling themselves the Modoc Nation, the group has drafted a constitution and established a government structure. The Modoc Nation opposes the KBRA – the Klamath Water Deal – which they say sells out part of their homeland – the Lower Lost River and Lower Klamath Lake areas – to agricultural interests.

As KlamBlog has pointed out, the Water Deal strongly favors those water users who obtain Klamath River water via the Bureau of Reclamation’s Klamath Project. The richest and most powerful of these water users control large acreage in and near the remnant of Tule Lake. This includes land where the main winter village of the Modoc People was located. Farmers still plow up Modoc artifacts in these fields.

According to Modoc Nation Secretary of State Perry Chesnut, the government of the federally recognized Klamath Tribes - which includes members of Klamath, Modoc and Yahooskin origin - is dominated by Klamath people whose traditional lands lay to the North of Upper Klamath Lake. Modoc and Yahooskin people are numerical minorities in a tribal government which is one of the main promoters of the KBRA Water Deal.

Chestnut claims that the interests of the Modoc and Yahooskin have consistently been sacrificed by the numerically dominant Klamath members of the tri-tribal government and that the KBRA Water Deal was the last straw. This is why he and other Modocs broke away and formed their own tribal government.

Leaders of the Klamath Tribes negotiated the Water Deal in part in order to obtain federal taxpayer funds to purchase the Mazama Tree Farm which is located above Upper Klamath Lake. These leaders seek an expanded land and resource base for the tribe north of Upper Klamath Lake. The Modoc homeland lies south of Upper Klamath Lake.

It is too early to tell what impact this revolt will have on the Klamath politics. If they are able to secure federal recognition, the Modoc Nation could block key elements of the KBRA including those impacting Lower Klamath and Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuges. Several environmental groups think the refuges will suffer continued dewatering and other negative impacts as a result of the KBRA Water Deal. 

Tribal issues can be complex and confusing. There are currently 6 federally recognized tribes in the Basin – the Yurok, Hoopa, Karuk and Klamath Tribes, the Resighini Rancheria and the Quartz Valley Indian Reservation (QVIR). Other Indigenous groups – including at least two groups claiming to represent the  Shasta people – also seek recognition as federal tribes. Only three of the currently recognized federal tribes have signed the KBRA; the Hoopa Tribe and Resighini Rancheria oppose the Deal; the QVIR has not taken a position on it. According to the Hoopa Tribe, the KBRA attempts to involuntarily terminate tribal claims to Klamath River water originating in Upper Klamath Lake and the Upper Basin generally.

In the past the federal government forced Native Indigenous peoples from several territories to live together on lands that whites did not want. Sometimes this resulted in traditional enemies occupying the same reservation. That was the fate of some bands of Modoc who were forcibly removed from their homeland to the reservation North of Upper Klamath Lake in the homeland of the Klamath people. That reservation was subsequently terminated by the federal government and turned into the Winema National Forest.

Siskiyou Daily News editor Mike Slizewski recently wrote an excellent editorial about the attitudes and actions of white Northern California settlers toward the Modoc people.

The names for tribes themselves often cause confusion. Typically, the tribal names used today are the names which the dominant white society adopted for culturally similar amalgams of independent – or semi-independent – bands. For example, some Modoc bands were deported by the army to Oklahoma where they operate a federally recognized tribal government – the Modoc Tribe of Oklahoma.

At several points in our history, the federal government has attempted to terminate tribes; some of these efforts have been successful; other terminations have been reversed via lawsuit or legislation. The Quartz Valley Indian Reservation was terminated in the 1960s but reinstated as a federal tribe along with several other California rancherias via lawsuit in 1980.

For many years Yurok people living on the Klamath River Reservation were not recognized as a tribal government. The US Government deemed these Yuroks to be part of, and represented by, the Hoopa Valley Business Council which was dominated by Hoopa people.  While Yuroks on the reservation struggled to prevent fishing rights from being extinguished, they also continued to push for recognition as a federal tribe with a reservation independent of the Hoopa. In 1993 the Yurok Tribe was organized pursuant to federal legislation with a reservation extending one mile on each side of the Klamath River from the junction with the Trinity River to the Pacific Ocean.

The Modoc Nation is trying to do something similar to what the Yurok accomplished earlier. The Modoc want to break off from the federally recognized Klamath Tribes. Recently the US government adopted the Universal Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.  The Declaration appears to support the Modoc Nation’s bid for independent government status. Of particular relevance are Articles 3, 4 and 5 of the Declaration:
  • Article 3: Indigenous peoples have the right to self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.
  • Article 4: Indigenous peoples, in exercising their right to self-determination, have the right to autonomy or self-government in matters relating to their internal and local affairs, as well as ways and means for financing their autonomous functions.
  • Article 5: Indigenous peoples have the right to maintain and strengthen their distinct political, legal, economic, social and cultural institutions, while retaining their right to participate fully, if they so choose, in the political, economic, social and cultural life of the State.
In the statement announcing adoption of the UN Universal Declaration, the Obama Administration mentions the Klamath River:
           DOI has also engaged in numerous cooperative resource protection efforts with tribes, including a water quality and biologic condition assessments agreement with the Sac and Fox on the Iowa River, restoration of the Klamath River though possible dam removal and in partnership with the Klamath River Basin tribes, and assistance to the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission to assess the impact of land use and climate change on wetlands.

The Administration’s statement fails to mention those Klamath River Basin tribes which do not support the “partnership” the Interior Department has established with 3 tribes via the KBRA Water Deal. These tribes believe the Deal will not lead to restoration of the Klamath River or to the recovery of Klamath Salmon.

Depending on who you talk to, the Modoc Nation is either an annoying but unimportant band of renegades seeking to cause trouble or an oppressed minority seeking self-determination. What is undisputable is that a determined group of Modoc people are seeking to protect the Modoc Homeland which they believe is being sacrificed by the federal government, the Klamath Tribes and other deal-makers.

The long view of US government relations with the Indigenous peoples of North America reveals that divide and conquer has been a recurrent if not constant government stratagem. Some Indigenous groups have always found favor with federal officials while others have been ruthlessly oppressed, suppressed or extinguished entirely.

The KBRA Water Deal is a creation of the federal Department of Interior. It has caused new divisions among the Indigenous peoples of the Klamath River Basin and their governments. Divide and conquer is playing out again on the Klamath; KlamBlog fears that does not bode well for the Klamath River or for the welfare of the Basin’s Indigenous peoples.    

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