Klamath Tribes Chairman attends White House Tribal Nations Summit

Klamath Tribes Chairman Clayton Dumont was in Washington, D.C., where he attended the White House Tribal Nations Summit held Dec. 6 and 7. A focal point of the summit was the pressing concern of tribal leaders: the oppressive bureaucracy attached to federal funding.

President Biden addressed the issue by reforming a Tribal Nations Executive Order 14058, issued Dec. 13, 2021 (Transforming Federal Customer Experience and Service Delivery to Rebuild Trust in Government), and directed executive departments and agencies “to reduce administrative burdens and improve efficiency in public-facing and internal Federal processes…”

As written in the Dec. 6 Executive Order by the President, “Despite the progress of the last 50 years, Federal funding and support programs that are the backbone of Federal support for Tribal self-determination are too often administered in ways that leave Tribal Nations unduly burdened and frustrated with bureaucratic processes.”

Chairman Dumont concurred with the President, stating, “One of the issues that many tribes, including us, face is matching funds. If we’re going to access federal dollars for different things, they may require us to have a 25 percent match upfront – that can be tough. We’re not a rich tribe. When he announced this, he promised us that the burden was going to be eased. Also, you know, the reporting requirements on a lot of the grant dollars that tribes can access are just really onerous and a real tax on our staff. So, the first few pages of that are about reducing the red tape and the bureaucracy. So that was good.”

Chairman Dumont also said he communicated with Oregon Congressman Cliff Bentz just before the congressman headed into a Natural Resources Committee meeting. “There are a lot of federal dollars available right now for natural resources activities,” Chairman Dumont said. “And one source of those funds is called the Tribal Forest Protection Act, and if you have tribal forests, or you have lands adjacent to those tribal forests that need restoration work to help prevent wildfires, then you can apply for those dollars. We applied for one of those awards through the BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs), and it was really successful. The other we went through was with the Forest Service, and it took four months to get a a response.  Congressman Bentz asked about the delay on our behalf while in the committee meeting, and I understand our Fire Manager in Chiloquin got a call back the next day. So that was good.”

Representatives from Tribes around the nation were on hand for the summit, including the Associated Tribes of Northwest Indians. Chairman Dumont was thus able to spend some time with the Nez Perce Chairman. The Nez Perce headquarters is in Idaho, but part of their homeland is in the northeastern corner of Oregon.  “They have issues with the state of Oregon, you know, NAGPRA, Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act kinds of issues or other natural resource issues that involve the state government in Oregon,” Chairman Dumont said. “So, their ability, because they’re based in Idaho, has sometimes been challenged by other Oregon tribes, you know, as far as their relationship with the state government here, and he wanted to know what I thought about it. I committed to bringing the matter to our full Tribal Council and told him I expected we would be supportive of the Nez Perce desire to interact with the Oregon State Government. We interact with California because our ceded lands extend into California, so we understand. I let him know that I expected we would be supportive and that with the approval of the full Tribal Council, I would communicate that support to leaders of the other eight Oregon-based tribes.”

Chairman Dumont also met with the staff of Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley, discussing a host of issues. Among those was the Inflation Reduction Act money that will be distributed throughout the Klamath Basin, from the headwaters to the ocean. These are critically important funds that U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland helped champion for forest restoration work in the Klamath Tribes homeland. “Some of those dollars that came the first year to the Fremont-Winema were not spent in a way that we thought was productive,” Chairman Dumont said. “While I was back there, I heard from our Natural Resources Department leadership that the Fremont-Winema Forest Service was telling them not to expect any of those dollars to come for the next four years. 

“That money is supposed to come for five years, given the extreme fire danger that exists here in our treaty-protected forest. So, I asked the Senator’s staff about that, and they were baffled. By the time I got home, I was told that planning meetings between the Fremont-Winema staff and our Natural Resources Department for next year’s funding were being scheduled. So, we probably owe Senator Merkley yet another ‘thank you’ for all he does to support the Klamath Tribes. We expect that over the next four years, our relationship with the Fremont-Winema will be much improved, and given what we’ve just gone through, being critical of how they spent this year’s allocation, we foresee productive use of those dollars. So, to hear that they weren’t coming was off-putting, to say the least.”

Filling out the full slate of meetings, the Chairman met with the Assistant Deputy Secretary for Fish and Wildlife Service, Mathew Strickler, on Endangered Species Act issues and the perpetual water problems facing the Upper Klamath Basin. He stated that the meeting was productive as we move toward a new ESA-required Biological Opinion for protecting endangered c’waam and koptu.