Karuk Tribe questions restoration of Ruffey
EUREKA — A
Northern California congressman says his bill to restore the
Ruffey Rancheria in Siskiyou County 60 years after the
federal government dissolved it will right a historic wrong,
but the neighboring Karuk Tribe claims there are political
motives behind the legislation.
LaMalfa’s bill — H.R. 3535 — would reestablish the rancheria
and set up a process for membership enrollment and
establishing water, fishing and land rights in Siskiyou
County where the rancheria was first established in 1906.
Executive Director Joshua Saxon said the individuals in
Shasta County seeking to become members of the rancheria
have questionable ties to the original Ruffey Rancheria
members. Saxon said some of these individuals have also
voiced support for delaying a plan to remove four Klamath
River dams starting in 2020 — a plan which LaMalfa and
Siskiyou County have openly opposed.
“This is a ploy
by LaMalfa and Siskiyou County to reinvent the tribe that is
a check on all the other tribes in the basin on the issues
of water, fish and dam removal,” Saxon said.
Tahj Gomes is a
Chico-based defense attorney and identifies himself as the
tribal chairman of the Ruffey Rancheria, previously known as
the Etna Band of Indians. Gomes said he cannot speak for
LaMalfa’s intentions, but only his own.
families, federal restoration isn’t about providing a
‘check’ on other Indian Tribes in the Klamath River Basin,
and it is unfortunate that Mr. Saxon believes that our
Tribe’s basic sovereign right to be a Tribe should be denied
on those grounds,” Gomes emailed the Times-Standard on
Friday. “To us, restoration is about being recognized as a
Tribe that survived the Termination era as an intact Indian
communications director Parker Williams said the congressman
has known and worked with Ruffey Rancheria descendants since
serving in the state Assembly. Parker said LaMalfa has had
numerous meetings with the Karuk Tribe regarding this bill
and has made many amendments to satisfy their concerns.
with the bill has never once been raised with Rep. LaMalfa
or his office,” Williams said about Saxon’s comments. “The
text of the bill provides that: ‘Nothing in this Act shall
expand, reduce, or affect in any manner any hunting,
fishing, trapping, gathering, or water rights of the Tribe
and its members.’ Under this bill, the tribe would be
afforded the same rights afforded to all federally
recognized Indian tribes.”
tribal organizations representing about 70 tribes throughout
the state have also raised concerns about LaMalfa’s response
to tribes’ concerns.
concerned to learn that several tribal commenters in
California and Oregon have raised questions about the group
affiliated with H.R. 3535 that have gone unanswered,”
Southern California Tribal Chairman’s Associated Robert
recently passed through the House Natural Resources
Committee in a 19-18 vote.
Congressman Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, voted against the
bill, and said that the issue is not whether Congress should
restore a wrongfully terminated tribe.
“Of course we
should work toward that,” Huffman said at the May 4 hearing.
“But this is about whether the process is respecting the
rights of the dozens of California tribes who are raising
committee hearing, LaMalfa said the concerns raised by
Huffman were “11th hour concerns,” though Huffman said he
and other colleagues raised the issue nearly a month before.
“So who’s being
open here and who’s being disingenuous?” LaMalfa said in
response to Huffman’s concerns. “It’s a little appalling and
I always look for a positive, constructive conversation on
The bill is set
to be heard by the House Rules Committee and is expected to
be voted on this summer.
The bill as
amended would also allow the Secretary of the Interior to
provide land in trust for the rancheria located in Siskiyou
County, but does not provide a limit on how much land; the
previous version of the bill limited it to 441 acres.
The Karuk Tribe
said this bypasses normal administrative processes that
other tribes have to face. Saxon said the bill would also
infringe on existing water and fishing rights held by other
Klamath Tribes despite the legislation saying otherwise. The
only protections offered in the bill for the rights of other
tribes are for those in Oregon and the neighboring Quartz
Valley Indian Reservation, Saxon said.
the legislation says it’s so doesn’t make it so,” Saxon
said. “If you establish water rights on the Klamath River,
tell me how that’s not going to affect the Klamath Basin
this concern as a “red herring” and a “scare tactic.”
Rancheria is not claiming to be a tribe that derives its
rights from a treaty, nor does the legislation establish any
new or infringe on any existing rights,” he said.
possibility of Federal restoration for our Tribe is a
momentous occasion. It isn’t a question of politics; it is a
question of social justice,” Gomes continued. “For us, this
legislation is an opportunity for us to be a federally
recognized Tribe once again.”
As to Klamath
River dam removal, Saxon said that he would expect the
rancheria, if established, to request that the removal
process currently before the Federal Energy Regulatory
Commission to start over.
Times-Standard asked Gomes if he and the Etna Band of
Indians opposes dam removal.
Rancheria has not made any statement or sent any letter
opposing dam removal or requesting a such a delay,” Gomes
said in response.
Gomes did pen a
letter to the State Water Resources Control Board in
February 2017 regarding the dam removal project’s water
quality permit. Gomes did not state opposition to the
project in the letter, which he signed as the chairman of
the Etna Band of Indians, but requested that a new
environmental report be developed to give “due
consideration” to Shasta Indian descendents.
In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C.
section 107, any copyrighted material
herein is distributed without profit or
payment to those who have expressed a
prior interest in receiving this
information for non-profit research and
educational purposes only. For more
information go to: