Tribes Say Hood River Casino Site Not a Bluff

By Steve Lundgren, Central Oregon Correspondent from The Oregonian
August 15, 2001

HOOD RIVER — The Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs are serious about building a casino in Hood River, despite objections of the governor, the community or anyone else, a tribal leader says.

“Everybody thinks we’re . . . bluffing, but we’re going to build a casino on our Hood River trust property,” said Rudy Clements, chairman of the board of directors for the tribes’ existing Indian Head Casino on its Central Oregon reservation.

In July, the tribes applied to the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs to take 175 acres of land they recently purchased into federal trust so they can use it for support facilities for the casino. That would make the land exempt from state taxes and land-use laws as well as from the restrictive federal Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area Act.

If state or federal agencies block that proposal, Clements said, the tribes may just have to build a multistory casino on 40 acres that already are in trust.

In late July, the Bureau of Indian Affairs sent a letter to Hood River County, the U.S. Forest Service and the Columbia River Gorge Commission seeking their opinions on the proposal by Aug. 21. Officials from all three agencies said they want a 90-day extension to get more information.

Jurgen Hess, of the Forest Service’s Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, said his agency wants to see an environmental assessment on the proposal before it issues any opinion. That document is being prepared but has not been completed, according to Stan Speaks, the Bureau of Indian Affair’s regional director.

The property where the tribes want a casino is adjacent to the recently completed Mark O. Hatfield State Park and a stretch of the Historic Columbia River Highway that has been turned into a hiking and biking trail.

That outrages Hood River residents, who have long fought a casino in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area.

“This particular proposal for a casino smack in the middle of the national scenic area is an inappropriate area,” said Toni Vakos of No Casino, a citizens’ group. “It’s the equivalent of putting a casino right in the middle of Yosemite or Yellowstone.”

The tribes 40-acre parcel has been in trust since the 1920s. Because it was held in trust before the Indian Regulatory Gaming Act of 1988, they need no one’s permission to put a casino on the 40 acres.

The tribes purchased the adjacent 175 acres in the spring to provide space for facilities auxiliary to the casino, including a sewage system, parking and possibly gas stations, stores and a restaurant, according to Clements.

The tribes plan to invest up to $150 million within about five years, Clements said.

The Hood River site was not the tribe’s first or most favored location for the proposed casino. Years ago, they purchased land within the urban growth boundary of Cascade Locks. Because it’s within the growth boundary, the acreage is excluded from national scenic area restrictions. And city officials there would welcome the casino, Mayor Roger Freeborn said.

But Gov. John Kitzhaber opposes that site and has the authority to veto proposed casinos off reservations on lands taken into trust after the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988.

After three years of haggling with state and local authorities, the tribes have become resolute about building at Hood River. Clements said he understands the Hood River site is controversial and agrees there are valid arguments against it, especially because of its proximity to the state park.

But he said the tribes need a business to remain self-sufficient in the face of dwindling timber revenue. Because of that, Clements said, they have abandoned plans for a casino at Cascade Locks.

“We’ve already tried to work with the governor,” Clements said. “He’s made his choice. We’re going to Hood River.”

If the 175 acres at Hood River are not taken into trust, any development on them would be subject to review by the U.S. Forest Service, which manages federal lands in the scenic area and administers the National Scenic Area Act in the gorge. It also would be subject to approval by the Columbia River Gorge Commission, a body that includes representatives of federal, state and county governments in the gorge.

“We have worked with the tribes on a number of matters and have been allies with them, but we think this one could really undermine the National Scenic Area Act,” said Kevin Gorman of Friends of the Gorge, a Hood River-based group.

Martha Bennett, executive director of the Columbia River Gorge Commission, has similar concerns.

“We don’t want anything to take place that is in exception to that law,” Bennett said. “It’s not about this project. It’s about the scenic act and whether it’s OK to withdraw land from the protection of the act.”

Scientists, Tribes Ready to Battle over Fate of Kennewick Man

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) – Indian tribes say he is one of theirs and should be returned to the Earth. Scientists say he belongs to the world and should be studied first.

On Tuesday, a heated legal fight over Kennewick Man – a 9,300-year-old skeleton found on the Washington shoreline of the Columbia River in 1996 – enters a pivotal phase.

U.S. Magistrate John Jelderks will listen to oral arguments in what he has called the most acrimonious case he has handled in two decades on the bench.

Eight scientists sued the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which nearly five years ago announced it would turn over the remains to a coalition of five Columbia Basin tribes for burial under federal law. The scientists want to study the skeleton, regarded as one of the oldest and most complete ever found in North America, to learn more about the region’s earliest inhabitants.

The tribes – Colville, Umatilla, Yakama, Nez Perce and Wanapum – say the bones already have been subjected to enough scientific scrutiny, including destructive DNA and radiocarbon-dating tests. They consider the “Ancient One” an ancestor and want a dignified burial.

But determining the cultural identity of an individual that lived more than 450 generations will not be easy, and the feud is not likely to end this week. Each side is expected to appeal any adverse ruling. Jelderks also could choose to turn the matter back to federal agencies to gather more information, as he did in 1997.

The legal case centers on the 1990 Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. It dramatically increased the tribes’ power over the disposition of human remains and cultural artifacts held in museums or found on federal or tribal lands. The law was intended to balance the cultural interests of tribes and the research interests of scientists.

It requires tribal officials filing claims to remains to show that they are culturally affiliated with the ancient individual’s group or that the remains were found on their former land as officially designated by the Indian Claims Commission.

The suing scientists maintain that it is virtually impossible for a modern tribe to show Kennewick Man’s cultural affiliation. The only artifact found with him was a spearpoint in his pelvis.

In September, Bruce Babbitt, then secretary of the interior, ruled that Kennewick Man should be turned over to the tribes for burial, a decision that supported the corps’ 1996 move. Babbitt said it was based primarily on the tribes’ oral histories and the area where Kennewick Man was found.

Babbitt’s decision surprised many scientists because the U.S. Bureau of Land Management had decided a few weeks earlier that a 9,500-year-old skeleton known as Spirit Cave Man in Nevada was not affiliated with modern tribes.

The physical characteristics of Kennewick Man and Spirit Cave Man, who was found with numerous cultural artifacts, are almost identical and do not match those of modern Indians, say scientists who have examined both remains.

The scientists’ attorneys argue that the government has not shown that the skeleton is Indian, which the Interior Department defines as anyone who was within the boundaries of the present United States in 1492, when Christopher Columbus arrived in the Americas. Using a date alone to determine whether remains are Indian is wrong, they say.

“This case is about basic decency and respect for human remains,” said Samuel N. Penney, chairman of the Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee.

Questions Surround Decisions on Tribes

By Peter Sleeth, The Oregonian
March 29, 2001

The official who approved the Chinook’s federal status later joined a law firm specializing in tribal gaming, records show

The former head of the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs reversed his staff’s recommendation and approved tribal status to the Chinook Indian Tribe of Southwest Washington earlier this year, then went to work for a law firm that handles tribal gaming issues and solicited business from the Chinook, according to government documents and tribal records.

The Chinook declined the offer, their attorney said Wednesday. The tribe potentially could put a casino in the Portland metro area.

“There has been no such discussion within the Chinook tribe,” said Dennis J. Whittlesey, a Washington, D.C., attorney. “They would be frankly foolish to even have that thought in mind.”

The Boston Globe newspaper reported Sunday that former Bureau of Indian Affairs head Kevin Gover and his deputy, Michael J. Anderson, made crucial decisions on behalf of tribes on the East Coast and Washington state during their last days in office, then took jobs with firms promoting tribal gaming. Gover and Anderson were co-chairmen of Native Americans for Clinton/Gore, the newspaper reported.

Neither man would comment on the specific cases to The Boston Globe.

As the head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Gover had final determination on whether a tribe could be recognized as a legal entity and thus entitled to federal benefits. Typically, the bureau follows the recommendations of its staff, which opposed granting federal recognition to two Washington tribes, the Chinook and Duwamish.

The Duwamish tribe had its ancestral lands in the Seattle area, while the Chinook occupied the Lower Columbia River areas. Conceivably, the tribes, once recognized, could open casinos in Seattle and perhaps Vancouver, Wash.

After Gover left office, he joined the Washington, D.C., law firm of Steptoe & Johnson, which specializes in representing Native American tribes before Congress and the federal government, according to a letter the firm sent to the Chinook that was obtained by The Oregonian. Their monthly fees range from $5,000 to more than $20,000.

Anderson now works for the firm Monteau, Peebles and Crowell, which represents gaming tribes, The Boston Globe reported.

On Jan. 3, Gover made it his last official act to re-establish a government-to-government relationship with the 2,000-member Chinook tribe. On Jan. 19, his last day in office, Anderson approved tribal status for the Duwamish, The Boston Globe reported.

The Bush administration is holding up the Duwamish case, citing it as part of a large number of decisions made in the waning days of the Clinton administration that would be reviewed, according to a memo obtained by The Oregonian. Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton, under whose authority the bureau operates, has made it clear, however, that she will not challenge the Chinook case.

Yet, all is not clear for the tribe, whose people greeted Lewis & Clark in 1805.

The Quinault Tribe in Western Washington, where many Chinook have land holdings, is set to appeal the bureau’s decision to give the Chinook tribal status. The appeal deadline is April 9. A spokesman for the Quinault Tribe declined comment Wednesday.

The number of tribes seeking recognition has soared since 1988, when tribes were allowed to overrule state regulations against gambling and build casinos. In the intervening years, the most successful of the tribal casinos have been those near large cities.

Gover is a Pawnee Indian and was appointed head of the bureau in 1997. He helped organize Native American voters on behalf of Bill Clinton in 1992 and 1996, and solicited contributions from gaming tribes for both Clinton and the Democratic Party.

The Chinooks never contributed to the Clinton campaigns or the Democratic Party, Whittlesey said.

Tribes Fight to Win Vast Public Lands Back

By Brad Knickerbocker, Staff writer, The Christian Science Monitor
November 8, 2000

The Klamaths hope to reclaim 700,000 acres; say they’ll restore damaged areas.

In the high, dry forests of southern Oregon, along the rivers that flow swift and cold, the history of the American West is being spun out and retold in a story of land and water, equity and justice.

At issue are nearly 700,000 acres of former reservation land – native-American territory lost to broken treaties and a federal policy of “termination,” the unilateral disbanding of tribes in order to force assimilation.

The Klamath, the Modoc, and the Yahooskin Band of Snake Indians, collectively known as the Klamath Tribes, have formally begun what will undoubtedly be a long political process of trying to get back the land. Their lengthy report on why and how this should be done was submitted last week to the United States Department of the Interior.

DISPUTED TERRITORY: Upper Klamath Lake, in Klamath Falls, Ore., is part of the land base that once belonged to the Klamath Tribes, but was taken over by the US government over the years. The native American group is now fighting to reclaim nearly 700,000 acres of the original territory.

The tribes say it’s a matter of justice, and they add that native Americans are more likely than others to restore and take care of environmentally sensitive areas that have been damaged by logging, grazing, mining, and water diversions for farm irrigation.

“All we want now is the opportunity to take care of that land as we once did,” says Lynn Schonchin, general manager of the tribes. “We want to build a community.”

It may be an ambitious plan, but it is not without precedent.

In other parts of the country, federal agencies have begun to share and even turn over land-management responsibilities for national forests and other public lands to tribes. In some cases, this has meant expanding reservation boundaries. Examples include the Yakama Reservation in Washington, the Taos Pueblo in New Mexico, and the Warm Springs Reservation in Oregon.

But restoring the Klamaths’ traditional land base – which is now part of the Winema and Fremont National Forests – is a far greater undertaking, with many political obstacles.

Nonnative landowners on the former tribal land worry about their future. Companies and developers oppose restrictions on resource extraction and recreational development.

And environmentalists, although they honor native Americans’ tradition of land stewardship, are concerned that land given back to the tribes (as sovereign nations) might not be protected by such federal laws as the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act.

“There’s no disputing that the Indians have been given a rotten deal,” says Wendell Wood, field representative here for the Oregon Natural Resources Council, a private research and advocacy group. “But we don’t think that public lands should be the currency for rectifying those wrongs.”

Other environmentalists note that in some places – particularly Alaska – revenue-hungry native groups have been just as eager as corporations to clearcut tribal forests.

The issue generates strong feelings.

“I for one do not desire to see the [land] returned to the tribes, even if the current members vote to buy the land at today’s current fair market value,” says Jay Christensen, who has a woodworking business in Klamath Falls.

“The land is simply too valuable to the people of the United States as a multiple-use resource,” Mr. Christensen asserted at a recent public hearing on the tribal plan. “In addition, giving the land to the tribes is simply another form of government welfare, which does not teach self-reliance to members of a proud native-American nation.”

Here in Chiloquin, a town of about 800 people where the tribes are headquartered, the impression a visitor gets is more one of survival than pride. It’s a poor place with few businesses and a rough exterior.

It wasn’t always this way. Before European settlement, the tribes counted some 22 million acres as their homeland – a vast area stretching from Mt. Shasta in California to central Oregon. Under pressure from homesteaders and the US Cavalry, the tribes gave up all but about 2 million acres in return for the right to hunt, fish, and gather “in perpetuity,” under the Treaty of 1864.

Encroachment by force and legislation further reduced their holdings to 880,000 acres. Still, the tribes here were among the most economically and socially successful native-American groups in the US.

That changed in 1954, when Congress passed a law “terminating” the tribe.

The philosophy behind termination was that Indians would do better if they became part of the dominant culture and economy. With little choice in the matter, most tribal members took the $43,000 buyout.

But lacking experience in a cash economy, few invested the money or started businesses. Within two decades, they were experiencing high rates of infant mortality, unemployment, and alcoholism. Chiloquin dropped to the lowest per-capita income of any city in the state.

“The decision was to take away from them the very thing that had made them economically viable,” says Donald Wharton, an attorney with the Native American Rights Fund in Boulder, Colo., which represents the Klamath Tribes. “The result was fairly predictable – it was a disaster.”

The tribal buyout had cost the federal government $220 million. But the land has realized at least twice that amount in revenues for corporations and Uncle Sam – most of it from logging.

At the same time, however, wildlife habitat was suffering. Several species of fish and animals here are now on the endangered species list. Others, such as the grizzly bear, wolf, and lynx, have long since disappeared.

Declaring the termination policy to have been “morally and legally unacceptable,” President Richard Nixon in 1970 asked Congress to reverse the policy – which it did. In 1986, the Klamath Tribes were once again officially recognized.

Since then, the Klamaths have successfully reasserted their hunting, fishing, and water rights in court. A new tribal structure has meant some new jobs here. A small casino – far from any population center or interstate highway – has brought some employment but is struggling.

The tribes have also drafted an Economic Self Sufficiency Plan. Restoration of the land, which could provide timber, farming, and cattle ranching, as well as hunting and fishing endeavors, is a key component.

It may be years before the process is completed. The tribes have waited a long time already, and they’re willing to go slowly in what would amount to a reversal of more than 150 years of history.

Says tribal Chairman Allen Foreman: “I have a dream that all the children from the entire [Klamath] basin will be able to realize the benefits from this.”

Court To Address Water-Use Dispute

By Richard Carelli, Associated Press Writer
September 26, 2000

WASHINGTON (AP) – The Supreme Court agreed to tackle an important dispute over the scope of a federal law aimed at curtailing government secrecy, wading into a water-use dispute from Oregon and California.

The court said Tuesday it will decide whether the federal Department of Interior must release copies of documents it received from several Indian tribes to non-Indians who compete with the tribes for irrigation water.

A federal appeals court ordered release of the seven documents under the Freedom of Information Act, but government lawyers say one of the law’s exemptions should apply.

The federal Bureau of Reclamation administers the Klamath Irrigation Project, which uses water from the Klamath River Basin to irrigate over 200,000 acres in Klamath County, Ore., and two counties in northern California.

The bureau is part of the Department of the Interior. Another Interior agency, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, regularly corresponded with various Indian tribes in the Klamath Basin – the Klamath, Hoopa Valley, Karuk and Yurok Tribes – to consult about their water rights.

In 1996, a group of Klamath Project irrigators filed a series of FOIA requests seeking access to all communications between the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the tribes regarding water issues.

The agency released some documents but refused to release seven of them. At issue is whether those documents should be considered “inter-agency or intra-agency” communications that are exempt from public release under the FOIA.

A federal judge ruled that the government did not have to surrender the documents, but the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed that ruling last August and ordered them released.

Because the tribes had an interest in water-use rights, communications between them and the government cannot be regarded as intra-agency or inter-agency documents, the appeals court said.

In the appeal acted on Monday, Justice Department lawyers said the 9th Circuit court’s ruling “threatens substantial disruption of the trust relationship between the United States and Indians.”

The appeal noted the huge amount of Indian land located within the nine Western states that comprise the 9th Judicial Circuit – Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon and Washington.

About 28 million of the 45.5 million acres of land the federal government holds in trust for tribes and individual Indians are located in the 9th Circuit, the justices were told.

“The federal government cannot fulfill its fiduciary duties with respect to Indian trust resources without receiving candid, unfiltered information and assessments from the tribes and individual Indians who hold the beneficial interest in those resources,” the government’s appeal said.

Lawyers for the group of water users seeking the seven documents said the government appeal sought “a whole new exemption to the FOIA,” and argued that “any such expansion must be left to Congress.”

The government’s appeal was supported in friend-of-the-court briefs submitted on behalf of the National Congress of American Indians and numerous tribes.

The case is U.S. Department of Interior v. Klamath Water Users Protective Association, 99-1871.