Settlement: Hoopa Tribal Members Heard Loud and Clear at the Polls
Record Voter Turnout for Special Election
By ALLIE HOSTLER, Two Rivers Tribune
In a community where the average annual income is $13,000 a year, getting a $10,000 check in the mail can feel like winning the lottery. On Monday, December 17, many Hoopa tribal members knew the feeling when the first installment of their settlement checks arrived.
Steady lines of patrons patiently waiting for their mail filled the hall of the post office, and on January 3, 2013 similarly long lines formed at the Hoopa Valley Tribal office as tribal members waited to cast their vote in a special election that would decide how the remainder of the money would be distributed.
“We rocked the vote,” Danielle Vigil-Masten said.
Nearly 930 tribal members voted in the special election, a tally that far surpassed any previous tribal election. A mere 60 voters voted against the full payout and more than 860 voted for full payout.
Most predicted that result long before election day. The real question was Measure 2, which addressed distribution of minor children’s share. Voters could choose to have 100 percent of each minor child’s share placed in their Individual Indian Monies account (trust account) or distribute 50 percent of the child’s share to the parents or legal guardian.
Measure 2 failed by nearly 125 votes, so 100 percent of minor children’s shares will be deposited in an account they cannot access until they turn 18 years old and graduate high school. If they fail to graduate high school they may access their fund following their 21st birthday in accordance with tribal law.
On election day, Vigil-Masten and several ad-hoc committee members gathered at the Tsewenaldin Inn in Hoopa. Feeling confident, the group visited with one another and shared stories about their efforts.
Emotions ran high as their efforts culminated on election day.
“It wasn’t about the money,” Vigil-Masten said. “It’s about giving a voice back to the people. It’s about providing an opportunity for tribal members to be heard.”
She and others shared stories about how some tribal members were spending their money.
“Somebody bought a washer and dryer so they don’t have to go to the Laundromat,” Masten said. “Other people bought a vehicle or fixed their cars so they have reliable transportation.”
Sharon Branham said she hopes people spend their money in ways that will benefit their families. Others in the room said they see it happening already.
Masten, fueled by support from dozens of tribal members, led the grassroots campaign that saw the both measures to the special election ballot.
The movement sprouted in March of 2012 after the Tribe announced a settlement agreement with the United States. The $49.2 million settlement ended a six-year lawsuit the Tribe brought against the U.S. for more than a century of mismanagement of tribal trust monies and natural resources.
Vigil-Masten said the group’s work has only just begun. They said they are committed to improving the tribal structure for the Hoopa people.
“Once this is all paid out we’re ready to restructure and rebuild,” she said. “This process gives hope to the people. We stood up. We don’t have to sit back and accept the status quo.”
The ad-hoc committee was not so heavily supported by all. Some members withdrew their public support because they feared retaliation at their job. Others said they suffered personal attacks and were called greedy.
“It’s sad that some of the committee members were villainized for volunteering to give the people a voice,” Rhonda Jones-O’Neill said. “And it’s sad that our council doesn’t care about the people as a whole. The committee stood up for all the people by giving them the opportunity to vote.”
Vigil-Masten said the group’s commitment is paying off.
“Everybody took money out of their own pockets to make this happen,” she said. “Our people’s basic needs weren’t being met and now people are finally able to buy things they need like furniture, beds, cars and paying bills.”
As of press time, official word on a distribution date for the remainder of the funds was not available, but unofficial reports state distribution is likely to occur between January 18 and January 21, 2013 following certification of election results and logistical procedures.
At a Hoopa Valley Tribal Council meeting on Monday, Jan. 7, Chairman, Leonard Masten said the Council plans to hold a special meeting on Thursday, Jan. 10 to discuss the special election and subsequent distribution process.
Also being discussed is the enrollment of an undisclosed number of tribal members. Typically, new enrollments are listed on tribal council meeting agendas, however the names of prospective enrollees were not included on the January 7 meeting agenda. Although the Hoopa Tribe voted to enforce a November 15 enrollment cutoff date to be eligible to receive the $10,000 settlement installment, they are considering an undisclosed number of members to be eligible for the second installment.
Total tribal enrollment as of November 15 was approximately 3120.