Ruffey Rancheria federal recognition bill raises fears of another casino

A bill to restore federal recognition to the Ruffey Rancheria is raising fears of a casino and questions about the tribe's legitimacy.

The tribe is based in northern California. Officials in a city in neighboring Oregon are worried that H.R.3535, the Ruffey Rancheria Restoration Act, will lead to a gaming facility near their community, which is about 20 miles from the state line.

“The potential ripple effect of this legislation is allowing another tribe the potential to have a casino in the Rogue Valley,” Adam Hanks, the city's acting administrator, said at a meeting on Monday, The Ashland Daily Tidings reported.

Due to the concerns, which were considered at a "study session" of the city council, officials directed staff to draft a letter that will be sent to federal officials, or possibly members of Congress, the paper reported.

The city isn't the only one raising questions. Russell "Buster" Attebery, the chairman of the federally recognized Karuk Tribe, doesn't think the present-day Ruffey Rancheria has adequately explained how it is connected to the group that once had a relationship with the United States before being terminated by Congress.

"With the last members deceased, the Ruffey Rancheria was ripe for a re-invention by anyone who saw its restoration as a backdoor to federal recognition," Attebery wrote in The Redding Record-Searchlight on Thursday. "Seeking 'restoration' under the guise of a terminated tribe would allow a group to evade the lengthy administrative federal recognition process."

The rancheria's namesake is Old Man Ruffey, also known as Frank Ruffy. According to Attebery and other historical sources, he was Karuk, and, according to the tribe's fall 2013 newsletter, he was the great-grandfather of Melbourne “Bud” Lester Smith, one of the oldest citizens of the tribe.

Other sources have connected Old Man Ruffey to the Shasta, a neighboring people. Tahj Gomes, an attorney who serves as chairman of the present-day Ruffey Rancheria, was hailed as a promising young Shasta in the same book, Shasta Nation.

"The Ruffey Rancheria’s membership consists of the descendants of the historic Indian villages of central Siskiyou County, California, who have long intermarried, traded, and shared in an interconnected cultural and political life," Gomes said in his written testimony on H.R.3535 in which he described Old Man Ruffey as one of the leaders of the tribe.

Were the bill to become law, the rancheria that was set aside for the original residents would be placed in trust so the tribe could build a casino there. The tribe would also be able to seek other lands and engage in gaming on them so long as it can demonstrate "substantial" aboriginal and modern connections to those lands, according to the text of H.R.3535.

Despite the potential for gaming, The Medford Mail Tribune doesn't think anyone in Ashland has to worry. The land-into-trust process takes years to complete, the Oregon newspaper wrote in an editorial on Thursday.

"Ashland need not fear a casino anytime soon," the paper said. The nearest Indian gaming facilities in Oregon are about 80 miles away and the Karuk Tribe's forthcoming casino is about 40 miles away.

The House Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs took testimony on the bill on September 26, 2017. It has not yet been considered at a markup, the next step in the legislative process.

The Karuk Tribe is planning to debut its Rain Rock Casino in Yreka, about an hour south of Ashland, this month. Incidentally, some citizens of the Shasta Nation, which lacks federal recognition, and their allies have accused the Karuks of destroying a sacred site in the process.

In a February 23 letter, Chairman Attebery asked the University of Pennsylvania to put a stop to the efforts of a director at the Penn Cultural Heritage Center and also sent the employee a "cease and desist" demand. The tribe denies destroying any cultural sites.

Read More on the Story:
Casino in Ashland? (The Ashland Daily Tidings April 3, 2018)

Some Opinions:
Russell 'Buster' Attebery: LaMalfa bill to create new tribe raises questions (The Redding Record-Searchlight April 5, 2018)
Editorial: Casino? Don’t bet on it (The Medford Mail Tribune April 5, 2018)

House Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs Notice:
Legislative Hearing on 3 Tribal Recognition Bills (September 26, 2017)

Join the Conversation

Related Stories
Karuk Tribe getting closer to opening of long-awaited $35 million gaming facility (January 15, 2018)
Trump administration willing to defer to Congress in federal recognition matters (September 26, 2017)
Key Republican revives bill to strip Bureau of Indian Affairs of recognition powers (September 21, 2017)