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Umatilla make progress in regaining lost lands

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WORLEY, Idaho -- Regaining lost land is a key element of a 50-year plan at
the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Reservation in Oregon.

The tribes have made steady progress in the 15 years since the "New Nation"
vision statement was issued in 1990, Chairman Antone Minthorn told the
annual land consolidation symposium held by the Indian Land Working Group.

The tribes, which ceded 6.4 million acres in an 1855 treaty, were promised
512,000 acres; but the reservation boundaries, when drawn, included just
245,000 acres, Minthorn told the meeting. Land sales to non-Indians after
the Allotment Act created a "checkerboard" effect, further reducing the
homeland to just 158,000 acres.

In recent years the erosion has been stemmed, and the tribes now control
172,000 acres: about 20 percent of the original promised reservation.

The checkerboarding was "never the intent of our ancestors at the treaty,"
he said. "They wanted something to reside upon in perpetuity."

The three tribes of the Umatilla were forced to move in together in one
tribe's homeland, Minthorn said, under threat of imminent force by the U.S.
military and removal to Indian territory -- Oklahoma.

This "traumatic experience" led to "deplorable conditions," something the
tribe resolved to turn around in 1990.

A successful gaming operation started in 1995 has supported staff efforts
for land acquisition and development. The nation now employs 1,100 people,
half of them tribal members, the chairman said.

Educational levels have steadily increased, he said, pointing to bachelor's
degrees achieved by 76 tribal members, as well as seven master's degrees.

Tourism is now "fully developed," with 1 million physical visitors and 1
billion visitors to a video Web link.

"Planning never ends," he advised the conference, in an effort to "ensure
the tribe's ongoing existence and success."