Illegal Referendum passes Upper Klamath Basin Comprehensive Agreement

Klamath Tribal members who attended Agreement signing last Friday, April 18, 2014.

Klamath Tribal members who attended Agreement signing last Friday, April 18, 2014.

Guest Commentary

According to Klamath News, the Upper Klamath Basin Comprehensive Agreement is the product of eight months of intense negotiations involving the Klamath Tribes Negotiation Team, Upper Klamath Basin irrigators, the State of Oregon and the United States Department of Interior. The UKBCA was finalized on March 4th and received unanimous support of the Klamath Tribal Council on March 5th 2014.

Promptly after the UKBCA was finalized, tribal employees were asked to sign a contract where potential whistle blowing could compromise an individual’s employment.

Representatives of the Klamath Tribal Council and the “Klamath Tribes Negotiation Team” hosted a series of meetings in Portland on March 18th, Eugene March 19th, Klamath Falls March 20th and Chiloquin March 21st to distribute hard copies of the UKBCA, among other materials, to tribal membership.

Kayla Godowa-Tufti

Kayla Godowa-Tufti

Members were informed at these meetings referendum ballots would be mailed the following week, leaving tribal members 19 days to review over 100 pages of legal and scientific documentation and cast a vote to approve (or deny) and direct the Klamath Tribal Chairman, Donald Gentry, to sign the proposed legislation. According to the Klamath Tribes Referendum Official Ballot, “all ballots must be received by the US Post Office in Chiloquin by 9:00 a.m. Wednesday, April 9, 2014. Or they will not be counted.”

According to article XIV, section 1 in the Klamath Tribes constitution, regarding referendums, “Upon petition of 250 or more of the eligible voters of the Klamath Tribes, any action of the General Council shall be submitted to a popular referendum..”

This tribal law states that in order for an action to be submitted to a referendum, it must be petitioned by 250 or more eligible voters. Ballots were mailed promptly after the series of informational meetings, without petition.

Tribal membership had less than a month to review the 93 page document, supporting exhibits and data.  Tribal Council only allowed 19 days from the mailing of the ballots by the election company to the deadline for return.

Additionally, although their addresses are current and updated, a large portion of membership either did not receive a ballot or did not did receive a ballot in time to cast a vote before the deadline. Therefore, membership feels they did not have adequate time to make an informed decision in the already illegal referendum vote.

ORS 182.843 directs that a “state agency shall make a reasonable effort to cooperate with tribes in the development and implementation of programs of the state agency that affect tribes.” These types of government to government relations only require a State entity to consult with tribal elected officials, but not grassroots treaty rights beneficiaries. With consultation processes as they are, tribal membership’s concerns and desires get thrown to the way side, while negotiations with elected officials happen behind closed doors.

New processes requiring consent of tribal membership must be implemented in order for cultural practices and native species to survive industrial devastation and climate change.

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights recognized this in 2001, stating that:
“[T]he close ties of Indigenous People with the land must be recognized and understood as the fundamental basis of their cultures, their spiritual life, their integrity, and their economic survival. For Indigenous communities, relations to the land are not merely a matter of possession and production but a material and spiritual element that they must fully enjoy, even to preserve their cultural legacy and transmit it to future generations.”

As negotiations took place with Klamath Tribes Negotiation Team, basin irrigators, the State of Oregon and US Department of Interior, Klamath Tribal membership had no direct influence in the negotiation process. This process, which specifically discusses Treaty beneficiaries’ rights, very minimally regarded tribal membership opinion.

Many tribal members feel that had they had direct influence in the process, confusion could have been minimal, and more concerns may have been alleviated. Amongst many issues involved in this process, a division has been created within the membership body.

The UKBCA is superficial in its protection of Klamath Tribes treaty resources. The main points for restoration are primarily regarding fisheries and not other sacred foods that are essential to Klamath cultural survival.

For many of us, any agreement that brings our rights into discussion, should work toward restoration of the entire water system and not a limited area. Damages caused by the agricultural industry have altered the landscape forever. At the current rate of industrial destruction, without sustainable agriculture practices, salmon will never come home to the Upper Klamath Basin.

Kayla Godowa-Tufti descendant of Klamath, Modoc and Yahooskin tribes. Enrolled member of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs of Oregon. Indigenous/Treaty rights advocate. Journalist, lyricist, emcee. She was born in Madras, Oregon. Currently she resides in so called Eugene, Oregon, Kalapuya Territory.

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