“You don’t always get what you want, but you do get what you’ll accept,” D. J. Eagle Bear Vanas, member of the Odawa Nation, told an overflowing crowd at the Klamath Tribes 25th Annual Restoration Celebration kick-off in the Chiloquin High School gymnasium. Vanas, a nationally acclaimed motivational speaker and author, was among approximately 2,500 people in Chiloquin, Oregon August 26-28 to celebrate the Klamath Tribes “Sovereignty, Courage & Strength.” Other dignitaries included Billy Mills, an Oglala Lakota (Sioux), 1964 Olymic Gold Medalist in the 10,000 Meters and spokesperson for Running Strong for American Indian Youth; Walter Echo-Hawk Jr., a Pawnee (Kitkahaki), much-admired lawyer, tribal judge, scholar and activist; and US Representative (1993-1999) Elizabeth Furse, who for over 29 years worked with the tribe and helped with all restoration bills in Oregon.
Furse said the Klamath, numbering about 2,100 at the time of termination in 1954, were “the hardest hit of all tribes.” They went from being the second wealthiest tribe in the nation to being impoverished — losing the last 1.2 million acres of their reservation including 860,000 acres of timberland.
Stripped of their self-sufficiency, about 1,000 Klamath’s born over the next 30 years “… received no money from the liquidation of tribal assets – nor were they eligible for benefits (such as health and education programs) dispersed to federally recognized Indian people,” said Klamath Tribal Member Kathleen Shaye Hill whose report to Congress in 1985 helped to get the tribe restored. “Told alternately they “weren’t Indians” or were part of a tribe of “sell-outs,” these young people were caught in a no-man’s land which they had no part in creating. Some were even refused participation in all-Indian rodeos and basketball tournaments because other tribes said they “weren’t Indians anymore.”
Born in 1956, Georgene Wright-Nelson, now a Klamath Tribal Council Member, grew up without the benefits of tribal affiliation. But she remembers distinctly the day Ronald Regan signed Public Order 99-398 restoring the Klamath Tribes (Modoc, Klamath and Yahootskin band of Snake (Paiute)). Her family was living in Salem, Oregon. Word traveled quickly by phone and her grandmother, who couldn’t afford medical care, was eager to see a doctor at a tribal clinic. Nelson took her, but they were at first denied services because they were not from a recognized tribe – after a couple phone calls that confirmed the restoration they were allowed in. In 1826 Peter Skeen Ogden, a fur trapper from the Hudson’s Bay Company, was the first white man to leave his footprints on our lands. One hundred and seventy five years later those footprints have multiplied into the thousands, each leaving their marks on the lands and the Klamath Tribes. The newcomers came first as explorers, then as missionaries, settlers and ranchers. After decades of hostilities with the invaders, the Klamath Tribes ceded more than 23 million acres of land in 1864 and we entered the reservation era. We did, however, retain rights to hunt, fish and gather in safety on the lands reserved for us “in perpetuity” — forever.
Today the 3,500 members of the Klamath Tribes have their own Health and Wellness Center – offering comprehensive medical, dental, and pharmaceutical services. The Tribes’ sprawling Administration Building houses support services for tribal business and a 150 seat Council Chambers. The Tribe’s Kla-Mo-Ya Casino annually attracts over 300,000 visitors; during the Restoration Celebration the Casino’s new Peak to Peak fine-dining restaurant debuted a 5-star menu of in-house recipes including seafood and wild game – venison, elk, and pheasant. A new Travel Center includes a store, restaurant, showers, internet and television lounges. Since Restoration the Tribes have also initiated a myriad of programs including: Klamath Tribal Court to handle juvenile delinquency, guardianship issues, and adoptions; Transportation Planning to improve access and safety; and a Youth Center for the community. A new Cultural Center is in the design stage to house artifacts, teach history, traditional ways, and language. With characteristic energy, determination and vision, and a commitment to the larger community, the Klamath Tribes are forging ahead to reestablish their sovereignty and regain their land.
“The Restoration Celebration is important to share as a family so that kids can ask questions and learn from the elders,” says Christy Riddle, a 33-year-old Modoc who attended the Celebration Pow Wows, Youth Rodeo, Barbeque, and other events with thirty members of her family age 4-days to 84-years. “It’s a weekend of learning history and traditions. It helps raise young ones to be leaders who can help the tribe go where they want.”
Echo-Hawk says the 3,500 members of “the Klamath Tribes are blessed with outstanding leadership…in 25 years they have created a sophisticated government focused on building and protecting resources – hunting, fishing, gathering rights, and pushing forward a monstrous dam removal. They are at the doorsteps of Congress returning their land base, and habitat restoration.” The Nation building the Klamath are doing is “very significant,” Echo- Hawk says. “It is good for Oregon and the Klamath Basin.”
Vanas says all tribes should follow the Klamath Tribes’ example to achieve their goals. “Fight hard for the life you want. Fight hard for the community you want. Fight hard like a warrior because you are.”