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IREHR: Tea parties, property rights and anti-Indians in Klamath

"An accord known as the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement (KBRA), aimed at settling long-standing conflicts over resource and water rights between Indian Nations, farmers, environmentalists and dams in the Klamath River Basin, has been derailed by Tea Party Patriots members in that area, according to a story in the July 18 edition of the New York Times. An IREHR investigation, however, has found that a combination of Tea Party groups, anti-Indian sentiment and “property rights” groups have combined to make a just solution to this dispute difficult. To understand the significance of this story, however, we begin not with the Tea Party but with the Klamath River Basin itself.

The Klamath River is the third largest river on the West Coast, stretching some 263 miles from its headwaters in Southern Oregon's Upper Klamath Lake to south of Crescent City, California. Eight federally recognized tribes call the Klamath Basin their homelands--the Klamath Tribes (Klamath, Modoc and Yahooskin) in the Upper Klamath Basin, and, in the Lower Klamath, the Hoopa Valley, Yurok and Karuk Tribes, Resighini Rancheria and Quartz Valley Indian Community. Since time immemorial these tribes hunted, fished and gathered in the Klamath River watershed. Several species of sucker fish are economically and culturally important to Upper Klamath tribes, while salmonids are fished the length of the River.

The roots of the current conflict lie in the pattern of white settlement of the region that trampled indigenous natural resources and rights underfoot. The Bureau of Reclamations' Klamath Project, began in 1905 and eventually irrigated some 200,000 acres of arid lands in Oregon and California. PacificCorp, a subsidiary of Warren Buffet's Mid American Energy, and its hydroelectric dams and agricultural and other development also decimated tribal fisheries. By the 1990s in the Klamath River, two species of sucker fish as well as coho salmon were listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). A 2002 die-off of some 30,000 fish in the river dramatized the scale of the problem. The Klamath and Quartz Valley Tribes both faced termination under separate Congressional acts in the 1950s. Though these laws were later rescinded, this added to the uphill struggle of Native peoples in the region.

In pursuit of differing ends, tribes, farmers, environmentalists, PacificCorp, and government agencies have engaged in lawsuits, adjudication, and administrative and legislative maneuvering over tribal fishing and water rights, irrigation contracts, and the application of the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act and Federal Power Act.

Complicating the farmers’ claims to the water, most of the Klamath Basin tribes have federally-recognized fishing rights, while the Klamath, Yurok and Hoopa Valley Tribes have water rights senior to those of the irrigation districts under principles of western water law, and a combination of treaties, executive actions and legislation. Federal agencies have "moral obligations of the highest responsibility" to uphold tribal water and fishing rights, according to court decisions."

Get the Story:
Chuck Tanner: Tea Parties, Property Rights and Anti-Indianism in the Klamath River Basin (Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights 8/2)

Related Stories:
Hayley Hutt: Dam removal needed on Klamath to restore salmon (7/30)
Tribes in Klamath Basin see restoration agreement go nowhere (7/19)
Donald McCovey: Resighini Rancheria denied say in Klamath talk (7/11)

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