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Hoopa Valley Tribe Replies to Josh Saxon's June 18 Column

The Sovereign Rights of Self-Governance and Self-Determination are at Stake in the Klamath Settlement

Many thanks to Indian Country Today Media Network for bringing much needed attention to the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement (KBRA) and S. 2379 the legislation to implement it. The Federal government’s role in the KBRA should be alarming to any tribe that prizes the sovereign values of self-governance and self-determination.

The Hoopa Valley Tribe is one of only two Indian tribes who legally own the Indian allocation rights to fifty percent of the Klamath/Trinity fishery resources that are protected by treaty, Executive Order and federal law.

S. 2379, introduced on May 21 by Senators Wyden, Merkley, Feinstein and Boxer, will effectively bind the United States to abandon its fiduciary duty to protect our fishery from the effects of the Bureau of Reclamation’s management of the Klamath Irrigation project. S. 2379 would authorize this provision in the KBRA:

The United States, acting in its capacity as trustee for the Federally recognized tribes of the Klamath Basin, hereby provides . . . Assurances that it will not assert: (i) tribal water or fishing right theories or tribal trust theories in a manner, or (ii) tribal water or trust rights, whatever they may be, in a manner that will interfere with the diversion . . . of water for the Klamath Reclamation Project.

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Our Tribe evaluated the Klamath settlement on the basis of decades-long experience with legal, political, and administrative conflicts that threaten the rivers and fishery we have relied on for thousands of years. We identified policy, fiscal, technical and scientific problems, and proposed solutions. At the conclusion of negotiations, our judgment, exercised in utmost good faith, led us to reject the settlement as too risky to our rights.

That should have been the end of the matter. After all, such decisions are made daily by businesses, every level of government and, yes, Indian tribes. Parties meet, confer, bargain, disagree, and either make a deal or they don’t.

But after being pressured by water users, the United States did not respect our decision and insisted that Hoopa be bound by the Klamath agreement. Now Congress and the Secretary of the Interior are gambling with our rights. If their gamble fails, our tribe loses.

At the end of the day, the policies of the Klamath settlement mock the tribal consultation and coordination mandate in Executive Order 13175. In that order the President recognizes the right of Indian tribes to self-government and supports tribal sovereignty and self-determination.

Instead, the Klamath settlement turns the fiduciary duty inherent in Congress’ power over Indian affairs into a bludgeon against tribal rights. The National Congress of American Indians (Resolution No. PSP-09-051) and the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians (Resolution No. 09-63) have long decried this kind of outcome.

The precedent that S. 2379 represents for tribal rights is an unacceptable and unnecessary price for Indian country to pay. All tribes should tell Congress and the President to reject forced settlements for our tribe or any tribe.