Chairman’s Report

Klamath Tribes Regain Ownership of 7.69 Acres of Tecumseh and Crooked Creeks

With great pleasure and pride, I can report that the Klamath Tribes have regained ownership of nearly the entire (albeit short) length of pristine Tecumseh Creek and the eastern bank of a part of Crooked Creek. Located along Highway 62 between the Klamath Indian Agency and the fish hatchery, these spring-sourced waters are some of the cleanest on the planet, and their protection is vitally important to restoring the health of Ews (Upper Klamath Lake). There are also two wells on the property, one of which is artesian.

Although protecting the ambo (water) was the overwhelming motivation for those Tribal Council Members voting to approve the purchase, the property also contains a 1,487-square-foot home with two bedrooms and two bathrooms. The house sits between the property’s large Aspen stand and Hwy. 62. No plans have been established for how to use the home or the property beyond protecting its function in the ecosystem.

I expect that Tribal Council will be looking to converse with General Council in the not too distant future about how our people would like to see the property managed. In the short term, we have asked our Economic Development Corporation Board of Directors if our new Klamoya Casino General Manager would like to rent the house while he and his family purchase a home. We believe it prudent to maintain a regular presence at the property.

It is important to note that the Klamath Tribes have filed complaints with the Oregon Department of Agriculture against neighbors of our newly regained property for uncontrolled cattle grazing that has led to visible erosion, bank failure, and the loss of deep-rooted vegetation protecting riparian zones along Crooked Creek. Alas, the laws are weak, and the fight for enforcement is never-ending. As some of you have heard me say many times, the only way to truly protect our homeland is to own it.

Finally, the site is important to our cultural history. If you are a tribal member and interested in hearing more about its cultural significance, please reach out to our Culture and Heritage Department or feel free to give me a call.

The property was purchased with interest earned from our invested funds.  

A Free Press at Klamath Tribes News?

Never before have the Klamath Tribes had the opportunity to have a free press, with staff who are not required to clear investigations and stories about controversial topics with their supervisors. We now have that opportunity if we want it.

You may have noticed that advertisements are beginning to appear in our newspaper. At present, just under 50 percent of the cost of producing our fledgling paper comes from federal dollars. Fifty percent comes from the Klamath Tribes General Fund, and a small but growing amount comes from selling advertisements. 

Federal funds may not be used for expressly political purposes. So, until our paper can be fully funded with “unrestricted” dollars, we will need to be mindful that political content remains less than half. I don’t see this as a problem. But it begs a much larger issue.

What is “political”? And more importantly, who decides?

In recent months I have been asked twice by our news team whether it was okay for them to write about topics or talk to particular staff members. On both occasions I responded by saying I am not comfortable telling our tribal press what they can and cannot write about or with whom they may speak. A free press, in my opinion, is essential to a healthy tribal nation and to responsible government.

Believing this was a matter for the full Tribal Council to discuss, I placed it on a recent work session agenda. The moment this agenda item came up, the conversation turned to a story about the Swan Lake Rim Hydro Power Project for which multiple Tribal Council members (with different points of view) had been interviewed. 

The sentiment in the room was that as news of this pending story has leaked out into the tribal community, Tribal Council was being painted as both the initiator and director of the content of the story. (I got the sense from the majority of the eight Tribal Council members who were present for at least part of the work session that this narrative was prevalent on social media.) Although a formal vote was not taken, the position of a clear majority was that the story should be killed.

Ironically, fear of being painted as impediments to a free press led us to impede the freedom of our newly formed tribal press.

A week later, our Public Relations Director returned from vacation and forwarded a draft of the article, which Tribal Council had not yet seen and which is now on the front page of this paper. He asked that we reconsider, given what he believed to be the professional and balanced quality of the writing. At that point a formal vote was taken, and the article was approved for publication: 4 to 2 with 4 abstentions.

Nonetheless, the fact that we felt compelled to vote seems to be the exact opposite of facilitating a free press. This was pointed out by both Secretary Frost and Councilman Lang (who did not vote the same way) in notes attached to their votes.

I think these are growing pains, and I think with General Council’s help they can be overcome. I am also certain that I do not want to be tasked with censoring our tribal news coverage. Nor do I think it is less than a horrible idea for the full Tribal Council to be given that charge. Obviously, we do need some guardrails. For example, personnel matters governed by confidentiality rules and sensitive information about cultural sites should not be published. However, any restrictions should be as minimal as possible and carefully thought out.

I urge you to please make your voices heard. You can place your comments in the Members’ Portal section of the tribal website. Go to “Government,” then “Tribal Council,” and finally “Send Your Message to Tribal Council.”  

Another Court Victory

On January 8, 2024 the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear Klamath Irrigation District’s (KID) appeal of a U.S. 9th Circuit Court ruling. The 9th Circuit had determined that KID’s 2021 lawsuit challenging Bureau of Reclamation’s water management decisions belonged in federal court. KID maintained that the case was more properly about state adjudicated water rights and therefore belonged in Oregon courts. The U.S. 9th Circuit Court said the ranking issue was the federal Endangered Species Act, so the battle belonged in the federal court system. Had the U.S. Supreme Court moved the lawsuit into an Oregon Court, the “McCarran Amendment” (named after a mid-20th century Senator) would have removed the United States “sovereign immunity” (from lawsuits without its consent). That outcome would have paved the way for KID to attack BOR’s ESA obligations to c’waam, koptu, and c’iiyal’s (salmon) arguing that they were a lower priority than its obligations to protect farmers’ Oregon water rights.

Because of a “stipulation” left over from the otherwise defunct Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement, the Klamath Tribes remain unable to make a call on Project irrigators by using our superior, time-immemorial, state-level water right to hold Ews (UKL) water at levels supporting our treaty protected ecosystem. Therefore, our attorneys are constantly engaged in managing a complex relationship between state and federal law to maximize protection of our homeland ecosystem. As I have said before, I would not trade our legal team for any I have seen opposing us over these last five years, during which I have had opportunity to watch closely.