Opinions (Hayley Hutt–Hoopa, CA)
Termination Era Not Over Yet
In early November, right after the Klamath Bill was introduced by Senator Merkley (Ore.), Hoopa Tribal Council Member Augustine Montgomery and I traveled to Washington, D.C. Our mission was two-fold, to represent the Hoopa Valley Tribe as a fast-moving, formidable opposition to the bill and to find out the facts. We met in-person with Senator Merkley and Congressman Thompson. We also met with several Senate and Congress staffers, The Committee on Energy and Natural Resources and the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. It was a packed, productive, and successful week.
I had the opportunity to attend the White House Tribal Leaders Conference, and share Hoopa’s deep concern about the termination language in the Klamath Bill. If the Klamath Bill becomes law, the United States will successfully terminate its trustee obligation to the Hoopa Valley Tribe for senior water and fishing rights on the Klamath River forever. For the first time in the 21st Century, termination of tribal trust rights will occur without Tribal consent.
In addition to the White House Conference and White House Briefing and Listening Session, The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) held an all-day Tribal Leader Preparatory Meeting and meetings by Region. At every opportunity I shared our message, that the United States should not adopt language or legislation that would diminish, limit, waive or terminate the Trustee’s obligations for a specific natural resource against the will of the tribe.
There are numerous reason’s to oppose the Klamath Bill. The Hoopa Valley Tribe opposes the Bill because it fails to safeguard salmon and, in fact, will jeopardize endangered species by reducing flows in drought years. I spoke to the President’s top federal officials, and to the other tribal leaders present, about the threat of termination of Trust Obligations for specific natural resources. President Obama made clear that he continues to promote strengthening the government-to-government relationship, but I came away from a meeting with high ranking staffers realizing that deception is a common practice within the Department of the Interior (DOI).
The DOI has become comfortable with offering up its Trustee Obligation as a bargaining chip as they reach settlements with corporations, states, and tribes under the pretence that it is in the best interest of the Tribe. Nothing could be more dangerous to tribal sovereignty than the Trustee, once again, deciding they know what’s best for Indians against the will of the Indians. The United States is chipping away at its trust obligations one deal at a time which is a slow termination and slow death to tribal sovereignty. Tribes, however, desperate to restore or protect a natural resource, or desperate to receive benefits they have been denied, often take a “the best deal they can get” even though what’s offered is not fair in the long run.
Should this termination of trust responsibility pass, the Hoopa Valley Tribe will lose its ability to sue to defend its water and fishing rights. A Tribe does not have a right if they cannot defend it. Our neighbors need to think about this. Tribal rights are the only legal obstacle standing in the way of the Federal Government, Oregon, and PacifiCorp from making their own deal and doing whatever they want. If Congress can pass the Klamath Bill then no Tribe is safe from the United States taking what they want. Tribes should be alarmed and vehemently oppose this proposed legislation.
Assistant Secretary Larry Echohawk was on the panel during the White House Briefing and Listening Session last week. I learned that he is recused from discussing the Klamath Bill with Hoopa because of a conflict of interest. Also, Deputy Secretary David Hayes has a conflict of interest regarding the Klamath Bill. These are the two top federal officials in the BIA. What was the conflict of interest? In other words, who did they work for before they were appointed at the BIA, and are they still being influenced by them? These are questions that need answers.
After being told that Assistant Secretary Echohawk could not discuss the Klamath Bill, I had to change my comments and stated that the Hoopa Valley Tribe opposes termination of trust obligations against the will of any tribe. I asked for a Government to Government Consultation with Secretary Salazar himself because all other decision-makers cannot meet with us. I followed up with a formal letter from our Chairman requesting this consultation. No response has been received so far.
The Department of Interior is not acting in the Tribe’s interest to have proposed language that will terminate the U.S. trust duty to defend our rights, and destroy our standing to sue to defend our rights. This language was drafted during the Bush administration. If the Klamath Bill is passed into law and the U.S. doesn’t pass a billion dollar appropriations bill to implement all the provisions of the bill it will be an unfunded mandate, and the dams will not be removed. Or, if the U.S. decides that dam removal is not in the best interest of the public, the dams will not be removed. The Bill does not state that dams have to be removed, ever. Pacific-Corp will continue to profit and will not answer to the environmental violations, the irrigators will continue to receive their guaranteed and increased water allocations. The salmon, sacred to our culture, will be in grave danger and all the tribes, whether they signed on or not, will have no rights whatsoever to water for the fish. Our biologists and numerous peer reviews validate the very real threat to salmon that exists with this Bill. The DOI and the Justice Department will defend the irrigators’ right to water but not the Tribes’.
The battle that stands before the Hoopa Valley Tribe is very real and calls for our complete dedication. As American Indians we have a deep rooted spiritual obligation to defend our natural resources for their continuation, because it is the right thing to do. We must defend our rivers and the salmon for the continuation of our culture, and for our children. I am hopeful that Tribal Leaders will join our campaign to defend their trust relationship with the United States by objecting to this historic threat of termination of rights.
The highlight of my trip was meeting the President. I believe that President Obama is unaware and would not support a termination bill. Although the moment was brief, as he passed through the crowd, I did get to shake his hand and say “The Hoopa Tribe loves you!” He laughed. In his speech, he said “I’ve got your back.” I was impressed by his sincerity, and I take him for his word.