Council Member Holds Discussion on Settlement
By ALLIE HOSTLER, Two Rivers Tribune
The Hoopa Valley Tribe accepted the Federal Government’s offer to settle up on nearly a century of mismanagement of tribal funds and resources.
Early this year, the federal government made an effort to settle the Hoopa Tribe’s suit.
According to a letter mailed to Hoopa tribal members late last week, the federal government offered Hoopa $34 million in February of this year. Hoopa rejected the offer and a subsequent offer of $49.2 million was made in March.
After news of the settlement spread, a group of tribal members organized and circulated a draft petition signed by more than 700 tribal members. The petition called for a full payout to each and every tribal member enrolled before March 5, 2012.
When they presented their petition to the Tribal Council at the Tribe’s annual general meeting, the discussion fell flat on the Council’s side of the table. Many were disappointed that the tribal council did not address their concerns in that forum.
Feeling like their message fell on deaf ears, they continued to request meetings with the tribal council and kept their coalition organized despite the federally stalled settlement.
Although several tribal council members express their desire to listen to the people, none have done so as loudly as Campbell Field District Representative, Ryan Jackson.
Jackson regularly posts settlement updates on Facebook. He also held a district meeting last Tuesday evening to which all interested tribal members were invited. The parking lot was full and few seats were available in the Tribal Council Chambers. Later, Jackson reported that 41 tribal members attended, many of whom spoke casually and openly about their mistrust in the tribal government structure.
“I’m concerned about the existence and future of the tribe because of the lack of planning,” former council member, Marcellene Norton said. “But, I see a grassroots group of people emerging…a group of people who can make that change.”
Although a handful of people at the meeting supported some sort of withholding to augment and secure various tribal programs, such as monthly percapita payments for elders and higher education scholarships for college students, the majority of attendees shared stories that demonstrate a breakdown of trust between the tribal membership and the tribal government.
“This talk is crazy,” Tribal member, Arthur Jones said as he cited various instances of mismanagement of tribal businesses such as the Tribe’s mini-mart. “Might as well invest the whole thing in lotto tickets if you let the Council have it.”
Jackson said that even with a 10-year infusion of settlement money into programs such as elders pay and scholarships, the fix would be temporary.
“The foundation is dysfunctional,” Jackson said. “The council is not focused on fixing the dysfunction (citing problems with various tribal businesses and economic development ventures)…if you throw more stuff on top of it—corruption, mismanagement—holding this money back isn’t going to help solve our problems.”
The Vice Chairman of the Tribe, Byron Nelson Jr. signed and sent a letter to tribal members that explains the settlement process and outlines a plan to distribute $32 million to tribal members by way of a $10,000 per member payout. Shares held by minors would be deposited into their Individual Indian Monies account according to the plan.
“The Council majority has reached a consensus on a significant per capita payment,” the letter reads. “While the formula set forth in the Per Capita Ordinance establishes 45 percent as an appropriate amount to dedicate to per capita payments from timber revenues, the Council has identified 65 percent as the amount it may responsibly devote to per capita…”
But the Council’s unofficial consensus may have come too late. The coalition of tribal members seeking a full payout submitted a new and revised petition to the election board last week. On Thursday, Sept. 13, the Tribe’s Election Board, an independent body from the Council, accepted the draft petition The petition is now under legal review by the Election Board’s independent counsel.
If there are no legal problems identified by the legal counsel, the petition will become official. About 240 signatures are needed to hold a referendum election where the issue of how to distribute the money will be voted on by tribal members. There are approximately 1,600 qualified voters of the Hoopa Valley Tribe.