Published on December 29, 2012 by Amy
The Klamath Tribes, formerly the Klamath Indian Tribe of Oregon, are a federally recognized confederation of three Native American tribes who traditionally inhabited Southern Oregon and Northern California in the United States: the Klamath, Modoc, and Yahooskin. The tribal government is based in Chiloquin, Oregon.
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After signing the 1864 treaty, members of the Klamath Tribes moved to the Klamath Reservation. At the time there was tension between the Klamath and Modoc, and a band of Modoc left the reservation to return to Northern California. They were defeated by the US Army after the Modoc War (1872-1873), and were forced to return to Oregon.
In 1954, the US Congress terminated federal recognition of tribal sovereignty of the Klamath, part of an effort to assimilate American Indians judged ready to be part of mainstream culture. With the growth of Indian activism in the late twentieth century, the tribes reorganized their government and, in 1986, regained federal recognition. By this time, some members had sold their individual plots of land allocated in the 1950s, so the communal reservation land was broken up. A portion of that land was acquired by the government for the Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuges Complex.
A new reservation is in the planning stages. With support from The Trust for Public Land, the Klamath Tribes recently entered into an agreement to repurchase the 90,000-acre (360 km2) Mazama forest.
The present-day Klamath Indian Reservation consists of twelve small non-contiguous parcels of land in Klamath County. These fragments are generally located in and near the communities of Chiloquin and Klamath Falls. Their total land area is 1.248 km² (308.43 acres). As is the case with many Native American tribes, today few of the Klamath tribal members live on the reservation; the 2000 census reported only nine persons resided on its territory, five of whom were white people.
In 2001, an ongoing water rights dispute between the Klamath Tribes, Klamath Basin farmers, and fishermen along the Klamath River became national news. As of 2006, the water rights issue is still controversial. To improve fishing for salmon and the quality of the salmon runs, the Klamath Tribes are pressing for dams to be demolished on the upper rivers, as they have reduced the salmon runs.
By signing the Treaty of 1864, 16 Stat. 707, the Klamath tribe ceded 20 million acres (81,000 km2) of land but retained 2 million acres (8,100 km2) and the rights to fish, hunt, trap, and gather from the lands and waters as they have traditionally done for centuries.
As part of an effort at assimilation, in 1954 the US Congress had terminated the federal relationship with the Klamath Tribes, but stated in the Klamath Termination Act, “Nothing in this [Act] shall abrogate any water rights of the tribe and its members… Nothing in this shall abrogate any fishing rights or privileges of the tribe or the members thereof enjoyed under Federal treaty.”
The states of California and Oregon have both tried to challenge Klamath water rights, but have been rebuffed. Local farmers tried unsuccessfully to claim water rights in the 2001 cases, Klamath Water Users Association v. Patterson and Kandra v. United States but these were decided in favor of the Department of Interior’s right to give precedence to tribal fishing in its management of water flows and rights in the Klamath Basin. In 2002 U.S. District Judge Owen M. Panner ruled that the Klamath Tribes’ right to water preceded that of non-tribal irrigators in the court case United States vs. Adair, originally filed in 1975.
There are currently around 3,500 enrolled members in the Klamath Tribes, with the population centered in Klamath County, Oregon. Most tribal land was liquidated when Congress ended federal recognition in 1954 under its Indian termination policy. Some lands were restored when recognition was restored. The tribal administration currently offers services throughout the county.
The Klamath Tribes opened the Kla-Mo-Ya Casino in Chiloquin, Oregon in 1997. It provides revenue which the tribe uses to support governance and investment for tribal benefit.