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TULELAKE — Efforts to change Lava Beds National Monument to a national park appear stymied following a sometimes contentious roundtable discussion at the Tulelake City Hall Wednesday afternoon. More than 30 people attended the gathering following a Lava Beds tour.

Among the obstacles are fears by regional Native American tribes that increased visitation could potentially damage cultural resources while some Tulelake Basin residents believe a status change could further limit public access to the park.

A recurring theme was the fear the Japanese-American group opposing fencing of the Tulelake Airport might try to incorporate expansion of the Tule Lake Unit of the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument with legislation re-designating Lava Beds.

Boundary fears

Among those at the day-long session was Erin Ryan, district representative for Rep. Doug LaMalfa, a Republican whose far northern California congressional district includes Lava Beds. Following the meeting, Ryan said LaMalfa is especially concerned about fears the Tule Lake Committee, the group that hosts biannual pilgrimages to the World War II Tule Lake Segregation Center, wants to extend the current boundaries and force the airport to relocate and/or close.

“We’re listening to all the people,” Ryan said, but she frequently questioned the value of changing Lava Beds from a national monument to a national park. The change would require an act of Congress and is extremely unlikely without support from LaMalfa and California’s two senators.

Along with others, Ryan expressed concern a designation change could lead to use limitations, saying, “That is a concern to our (LaMalfa’s) office.”

Among those attending the tour and discussion were representatives from the Klamath Tribes, Modoc Tribe of Oklahoma and Pit River Tribe, along with administrators and supervisors from Modoc and Siskiyou counties. A prior gathering in April was attended by another staff member for LaMalfa and an aide for California Sen. Dianne Feinstein. Staff from California’s other senator, Kamala Harris, who took office in January, have not participated in the discussions.

Economic study

Elizabeth Norton, board president of the Volcanic Legacy Community Partnership, said efforts to promote the status change were generated after a series of 2016 meetings. An economic study prepared by Discover Klamath, Klamath County’s tourism agency, says projected revenues could increase annually between $23 million and $32.6 million in direct spending to surrounding communities from increased visitation.

Norton and Laura Allen, representing the Butte Valley Chamber of Commerce and Volcanic Legacy group, said the change would benefit economically staggering communities, including Tulelake and Dorris.

“Communities are suffering and this would be a shot in the arm,” Norton said.

Along with economic benefits, Norton stressed her belief Lava Beds qualifies for national park status because of its diverse cultural, historical and geologic features.

Lava Beds has more than 800 lava tube caves, was the homeland for prehistoric Native Americans, as evidenced by areas with high volumes of petroglyphs, and the location of the most significant events of the Modoc War of 1862-63.

Vandalism concerns

During a bus tour that preceded the discussion, Blake Follis, the Modoc Tribe of Oklahoma’s attorney, voiced concerns about previous vandalism at Petroglyph Point. He worried that increased visitation at Petroglyph Point, which he termed the tribe’s “point of genesis,” might also increase vandalism.

Perry Chooktoot, the Klamath Tribes cultural and heritage director, was sharply critical of the lack of protection, rhetorically asking, “So we’re going to put more people in this vicinity? We’ve got blood of our people out here.” He did note, however, “If you’re going to show me an increase in protection, I can go for that.”

During the discussion, Chooktoot criticized the status change as being only for financial reasons — “It’s gotta be for a dollar bill” — and said the region’s sagging economy is the result of increased marijuana growing and use and other long-standing factors, problems he believes won’t be solved by a change in park status.


In response, Tulelake Mayor Hank Ebinger said he believes national park status would give Lava Beds and its Native American history a higher profile and “could be an opportunity for that story to be told ... It’s not just an opportunity to make a buck.” Mark Clark, an Oregon Tech history professor, echoed Ebinger, noting a status change could raise awareness of the Native history and the “sadly neglected” Modoc War.

Regional development

Mickey Gimmel, Pit River Tribe chairman, mostly focused his sometimes angry comments on concerns about the Medicine Lake Highlands, which border the park and have been considered for geothermal development. “You better take us seriously and talk to us,” he barked. “We can be in opposition or we could be with you.”

Sonya Axelrod, the Pit River Tribe’s cultural specialist, expressed disappointment the tribe was not invited to Wednesday’s meeting — the Klamaths and Modocs had been notified — and asked Norton if she or others who support redesignation would attend tribal meetings. Norton, who apologized for not contacting Pit River tribal council members, agreed.

Chester Robertson, Modoc County’s CEO, and Supervisor Geri Byrnes, whose area includes the Tulelake Basin, expressed concerns the Tule Lake Committee might seek amendments to legislation authorizing a Lava Beds status change.

The committee recently refiled a lawsuit against Modoc County for plans to develop a fence around the Tule Lake Airport, which was part of the Tule Lake Segregation Center and is managed by Modoc County. They and others said they want assurances of the wording of any proposed legislation — bills for the status change would have to be filed in the House and Senate — and any possible attachments.

Distrust of federal agencies

A frequent theme was a general distrust for federal agencies. Dave Misso, a longtime Newell area resident who lives near The Peninsula, complained that he and other area residents in recent years have been forbidden from walking or hiking in the area. Addressing Chocktoot, Misso emotionally insisted, “The spiritual thing you talk about, many of us have that, too.”

Ryan Bartholomew, Malin city council member and Malin Historical Society president, who helped oversee the discussion, said there is a need for more tribal involvement in upcoming talks and noted a similar need for participation by Tulelake Basin residents. He also believes strategies should be developed to better preserve historic artifacts. A better understanding of the legislative process was also deemed necessary.

Despite an often negative tone, Norton urged people to discuss changing Lava Beds’ status with their groups and to “seek common ground and remain positive.”

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The Modoc Tribe: Making the journey back

Petroglyph Point, an area that is part of Lava Beds National Monument that features more than 5,000 carved petroglyphs, is an area of pride and concern for Blake Follis, a member of the Modoc Tribe of Oklahoma's tribal council and the council's attorney.

"This is part of our history, our creation," Follis said during a stop at the petroglyphs during a Lava Beds tour Wednesday. Park officials estimate the carvings were done 4,000 to 6,000 years ago.

Follis led the group to a panel of rock images, where he focused on damage done by vandals inside a fenced area. "The fence here would surely have to be improved," he said.

In 2013, more than 50 petroglyphs were damaged at a nearby unfenced area. Only a portion of the petroglyphs are fenced. Security is a concern because Petroglyph Point is not connected to the main park. There are stiff federal fines for people convicted of doing damage to cultural sites, but patrols are limited.

Although Follis lives in Miami, Okla., he has made several visits to Petroglyph Point and other areas of the park, including significant sites from the Modoc War of 1862-63. Follis, 32, is the great-great-great-grandson of Long Jim, the youngest warrior during the war. He's also the grandson of Chief Bill Follis, the tribal leader for the past 45 years.

Following the war, four tribal leaders, including Captain Jack, Schonchin John, Black Jim and Boston Charlie, were hanged at Fort Klamath. On Oct. 12, 1873, 155 Modoc prisoners of war — 42 men, 59 women and 54 children — left Fort Klamath and were taken by train to the Quapaw Indian Reservation in Oklahoma. After six years, their population shrank to 99 and by 1891 to 68. In recent years — the Modoc Tribe in Oklahoma was granted federal recognition in 1978 — Follis said the number of enrollees has risen to 299.

Although he lives in Miami, in northeastern Oklahoma, Follis said the Lava Beds region is also "home." As he explained, "We're talking about a location my family fought and died for. The significance for me is to bring back my son and show him what and where we came from."

Since gaining tribal status, he said the Modoc Tribe is "looking for opportunities to invest in the region," culturally and historically, with a goal of returning to Lava Beds and the Tulelake Basin.

"In recent years we've establishing a solid foundation to make this journey back. We don't want to convey an impression we're here to take over. We want to be a partner ... We don't want," he emphasized, "to displace anybody like they displaced us."





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