From the Director's Desk

The Native American Rights Fund has long recognized the need for economic development and self-sufficiency in Indian Country. The protection of tribal natural resources is closely linked to this end. Without an adequate natural resource base to sustain it, a tribe faces difficulty in practicing self-determination.

Apart from the extraction of mineral and timber resources, most reservations find themselves largely without any appreciable economic or business development. As a result, tribes are devoting an increased amount of their resources and energy toward building economically strong communities that can be sustained into the next century.

Tribal leaders consistently prioritize economic development as a key goal. Federal leaders proclaim its virtues. And states claim to support it as an important step forward for the Indian people on whose ancestral lands the states now sit. But what really happens when a tribe seriously attempts to accomplish economic autonomy and political viability?

As you will read in this issue's lead article, the Klamath Tribes of Oregon were on the verge of economic autonomy. However, they were twice decimated by federal policies designed to deliberately quash their economy and undermine their culture.

On another front, tribes that have recently found some small measure of economic viability through gaming ventures on their reservations, are being criticized for their attempts to offset the astounding poverty among their people and threatened by Congress with crippling tax legislation. And as many of you are aware, there's a somewhat common belief in American society that Indians "have struck it rich," and that great amounts of casino wealth are being showered upon Indian people and Indian organizations everywhere. I invite you to read "Indian Gaming and Economic Development". We are very pleased to address some of the misconceptions you may have already heard or read about Indian gaming.

John E. Echohawk (Pawnee)
Executive Director

The Economic Viability of the Klamath Tribes

The Destruction of Traditional Lifeways

For more than fourteen thousand years the Klamath, Modoc, and Yahooskin people have lived in what is now southern Oregon and northern California. They once controlled 20 million acres that held an enormous variety and quantity of wildlife due in part to the abundance of lakes and wetlands in the high, mountainous region. Although traditional rivals, the three tribes managed these resources in such a way that met all the needs of their several thousand inhabitants. However, contact with invading Europeans quickly decimated their numbers through disease and war.

In an 1864 Treaty with the United States, the Klamath people were forced to cede most of their territory, reserving for their exclusive use a reservation of about 2.2 million acres of their aboriginal lands. The Modocs and Yahooskins were forced to move to newly established reservation that was located within the territory of the Klamath people. Altogether the total land base to be occupied by the three tribes represented a mere one-tenth of their original territory. Their wide-ranging trade was confined and their vigorous economy suffered badly.

The Rebirth

In spite of these obstacles, the Klamaths recreated their vigorous economy with timber resources and livestock. They soon became one of the nation's wealthiest and strongest tribes. They were politically active, and culturally and spiritually vital. In 1953, the Klamath people were nearly at economic parity with mainstream society. They had little or no consumer debt and tribal individual income was 93% of the majority culture. In 1957, there were only four tribal members on welfare in the Klamath Basin -- three on old age benefits and one on disability. The Klamath Tribes were by every measure a significant contributor to the local economy. In addition, a major portion of their subsistence was taken from reservation fish and game sources, to which they had exclusive use. They enjoyed an enclave secure from the destructive management practices of the state Fish and Game Department and the U.S. Forest Service.

The Second Round of Destruction: The Taking of the Reservation and Tribal Identity

The strength and wealth of the Klamath Tribes were no match for determined efforts of the federal government to eradicate their culture and acquire their most valuable natural resources -- a million acres of land and ponderosa pine. The stage was set for the dispossession of the Klamaths in the early 1950's when the Tribes were subjected to one of the most misguided and brutal experiments in federal Indian policy - termination. Termination was a federal policy adopted by the United States Congress in 1953. The thrust of the policy, in its simplest terms, was to force the assimilation of Indian people into mainstream American culture. The goals of termination included the abrogation of all treaties between the governments of the various tribes and the U.S.; the abolition of tribal governments; and the nullification of all federal responsibilities owed to the tribes and their members under the treaties. In sum, having already received the benefit of the treaties with Indian nations -- millions and millions of acres of land -- the federal government no longer wished to uphold its side of the bargain (federal guarantees of protection of tribal sovereignty and natural resources and social services including health, education, and housing).

In 1954, the Klamath Termination Act ended the government-to-government relationship between the Klamath Tribes and the United States. The Act was adopted over the objection of the Tribes and against the recommendation of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) that the Klamaths were not ready for termination. The treaty provision of guaranteed social services were severed and it eventually caused the reservation land -- over 880,000 acres of ponderosa pine -- to pass out of Indian ownership. The timber resource by itself would, over the next 30 years, produce in excess of $250 million in revenues for the United States. The U.S. appraised the 880,000 acres of land and paid individual tribal members their pro-rated share of the value of the land. About 1,500 tribal members received about $43,000 in single, lump-sum payments. Not surprisingly, the money too passed out of Indian ownership. Much of the wealth derived from the sale of the Klamaths' homeland and heritage was lost to merchant attorneys who mishandled or embezzled trust accounts, and poorly considered investments.

The important distinction worth drawing here is that the Klamaths were well prepared to operate independently of the BIA's system of micromanaging their affairs. However, they were not situated to fair well given the destruction of their economic base (i.e. timber and land). The termination legislation guaranteed that neither the Tribes nor any of its members would have any realistic chance of acquiring any of the lands of the former reservation. The lands could only be acquired in blocks of 5,000 acres. Clearly no member of the tribe could afford to purchase such a large tract. In addition, it would have been nearly impossible to demonstrate any real possibility of competing with the U.S. Forest Service as a supplier of timber in the late 1950s. As a result, all but 90,000 acres of the land was taken through condemnation by the United States to become the majority part of the Winema National Forest and part of the Fremont National Forest.

Termination also took away the Klamaths' identity as an Indian nation. The loss of this identity did incalculable psychological and social damage to the Klamath people. Over the years from 1966 through 1980:

  • 28% died by age 25
  • 52% died by age 40
  • 40% of all deaths were alcohol related
  • Infant mortality was two and half times the statewide average
  • Poverty levels were three times that of non-Indians in Klamath County

The once self-sufficient Klamath people had their land and resources stripped from them; and were then blamed and ridiculed for "selling out" their Indian heritage.

The Enduring Spirit of Survival

But they didn't quit. They didn't disappear. They persisted in their quest for the reversal of termination with the restoration of the government-to-government status that has been unilaterally taken from them in the 1950s. They worked with their own people, congressional leaders, state and local community representatives and anyone else who would listen. They were told frequently that despite the fact that other tribes subjected to termination had been and would be restored, there would be no restoration for the Klamaths. But, through the leadership and vision of the Klamath people and the assistance of a few congressional leaders, the Klamath Restoration Act was enacted in 1986. Restoration of the Tribes began the process of providing them with the resources necessary to put their nation and their people back together.

The Klamath Tribes Today

There are now about 2,900 enrolled members of the Tribes. The tribal government is headquartered at Chiloquin, at the confluence of the Sprague and Williamson Rivers, a location that has for millennia been the site of some of the largest villages. The Tribes today operate under a General Council form of government with a Constitution adopted in 1982. They have had a constitution since at least the early 1940s. The 1982 constitution was merely an amended version and they have since adopted yet another version in 1995. The governmental organization includes a strong natural resources component, reflecting the centrality of those resources to the Tribes' existence, particularly during the Termination era. It provides an expanding spectrum of services including health, housing, education, and nutrition.

Rebuilding Their Lives, Their Government, Their Community and Their Economy

The Native American Rights Fund has long been a partner with the Klamath people in protecting tribal sovereignty and treaty rights against the ravages of termination and in regaining some of the resources needed for their ability to pursue self-sufficiency. Over the years NARF has:

  • Assisted the Tribes in securing a legal determination that the Tribes retained their ancestral treaty rights to hunt and fish within their former reservation, despite the Klamath Termination Act. The Court held that the treaty hunting and fishing rights of the Tribe had survived termination since they were not expressly abrogated.
  • Secured a determination that the Tribes have continuing water rights to support the existence of the fish and wildlife necessary to a realistic right to hunt, fish and gather.

Today, the Native American Rights Fund continues to represent the Tribes in various legal forums to protect and define their water rights.

NARF is also working with the Klamath Tribes on the Economic Self-Sufficiency Plan (ESSP) - a plan to define both the meaning and the methods for achieving economic self-sufficiency. The ESSP's chief recommendation is the return of ancestral lands taken from them during the termination era. It assesses the loss of the tribal reservation lands to federal management, as well as the costs of termination of the government-to-government relationship. The ESSP is under review by the Secretary of the Interior who must submit it to Congress with his recommendations.

This work along with NARF's other economic development efforts is helping to achieve increased control by tribal governments over their communities and their destinies. This requires the development of tribal governmental infrastructures necessary to implement and administer tribal entities such as courts and regulatory agencies; independent sources of revenue from which tribes can fund locally derived priorities and development (i.e. a tribal tax base); and a greater capacity to manage and foster the integrity of tribal homelands as they affect the health and the environment of Indian country residents.

On the Case

Donald R. Wharton joined the Native American Rights Fund in 1988 to direct its Economic Development Law Project. After directing the project which included environmental issues for six years, Don assumed responsibility for other cases at NARF in the area of tribal jurisdiction. Before joining our staff, he served as the founding Director of Oregon Legal Services Native American Program; Assistant Attorney General for the Navajo Nation Department of Justice; Staff Attorney for the Office of the Solicitor, U.S. Department of the Interior; Special Counsel to the American Indian Policy Review Commission; U.S. Senate; and General Counsel to the Klamath Tribe of Oregon. Don is a graduate of Colorado State University (1970) and the University of Colorado School of Law (1973).

Walter R. Echo-Hawk, Jr. (Pawnee) has been a Native American Rights Fund staff attorney since 1973. His legal experience includes cases involving religious freedom, prisoner, treaty, water, and reburial rights. He has served as Co-Director of NARF's American Indian Religious Freedom Project and Director of the Indian Corrections Project. In recent years, Walter worked on federal and state legislation to protect Indian graves and repatriate Native American human remains, including the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. In the 103rd Congress, he worked on bills to protect Native American religious freedom, including the American Indian Religious Freedom Act Amendments of 1994. In 1994, he co-authored an award winning book Battlefields and Burial Grounds: Native American Rights with his brother Roger Echo-Hawk. Walter has political science degree from Oklahoma State University (1970) and a law degree from the University of New Mexico (1973).


The Cheyenne-Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma held a Victory Pow-Wow on June 25, 1997 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma to celebrate the landmark decision in the Mustang Production Co. v. Harrison case. During the pow-wow the Cheyenne-Arapaho Tribes honored the Native American Rights Fund and staff attorney Melody McCoy (Cherokee). We were very pleased to have several NARF donors from the Oklahoma City attend the celebration.

In August 1996, the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit upheld the Tribes' right to tax oil gas production on allotted lands. The allotments -- 160 acre land parcels held in trust by the federal government for members of the Tribes -- are scattered throughout nine counties in western Oklahoma. The parcels are virtually all that remains of the Cheyenne and Arapaho 4.5 million acre reservation which the federal government took back in 1890. The Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes first enacted the tax in 1988 to raise $1 million annually for roads, schools, and housing for its 10,000 members, many of whom live in poverty. Nineteen oil companies, who for decades have been extracting oil and natural gas from the allotments, immediately challenged the tax. In March 1997, the United States Supreme Court denied the oil companies' appeal to review the case. The tax money that has been at issue in this case is about $5 million. The Tribes retained the Native American Rights Fund to defend their rights, and Mustang became the first major tribal tax case to be heard in Tribal Court.

Indian Gaming & Economic Development

Media coverage concerning Indian gaming has focused on the few operations that have seen spectacular success -- most notably the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe. However, these operations are the exception, rather than the rule. Gaming on Indian reservations has yet to significantly lower the high levels of poverty endemic to Indian people nationwide. While few Indian gaming operations are highly successful, with a profit margin of up to 40%, most are only marginally profitable. Further, many tribes may never participate in gaming because of their geographic location in rural, unpopulated areas. Out of more than 500 Indian nations, only 177 are involved in gaming as a means to fund reservation government programs.

According to the recent "Survey of Grant Giving by American Indian Foundations and Organizations" by Native Americans in Philanthropy, the needs of reservation Indians are so great that even if the total Indian gaming revenue in the country could be divided equally among all the Indians in the country, the amount distributed ($3,000) per person would still not be enough to raise Indian per capita income (currently $4,500) to anywhere near the national average of $14,400. At least half of the 1.3 million American Indians who live on reservations are poor and 49% of the reservations' labor force is unemployed - 10 times the national unemployment rate. In addition, gaming revenues are not a true indicator of wealth because gaming revenues represent gross revenues. And given the financial situation on most reservations, it will take several decades of sustained revenue flow to create opportunities for economic parity.

As for the "successful" tribal operators, gaming has reduced or eliminated unemployment and has funded governmental programs. These tribes must concentrate their revenues to create and maintain tribal police, fire and ambulance services; health and child-care services, educational assistance programs, cultural enhancement, and numerous other human service programs.

MYTH: Indian gaming involves Tribes engaged in commercial, for-profit gaming.
FACT: Indian tribes are governments. Tribes are neither charities nor commercial enterprises. They are governments and have been recognized as such for hundreds of years. Like local and state governments, they have a responsibility for the lives and well-being of their citizens. They must face the housing, medical, family, education and job training needs of their members. While the federal government continues to have a treaty based trust responsibility to provide some educational and health services to federally recognized tribes and their members, gaming revenues help offset declining federal funds for basic human services on the reservation.

MYTH: Better economic development alternatives to gaming are available to tribes.
FACT: While gaming is not the economic development answer for all tribes, it makes sense for many reservations who have had little success in other public or private sector ventures. Moreover, it provides the capital needed to initiate other sustainable economic enterprises.

MYTH: Tribal gaming drains resources and tax dollars from surrounding non-Indian governments and communities.
FACT: Tribal gaming facilities have become powerful economic engines for surrounding non-Indian communities. For example, in San Diego county tribal gaming has been responsible for the creation of 1,500 jobs with a payroll of $22 million per year (and associated payroll taxes and employee income taxes). In Minnesota, Indian gaming has become the 7th largest employer in the state. Furthermore, tribal gaming facilities spend millions of dollars every year purchasing goods and services from local sources because there are no other commercial businesses on most reservations. As a result, virtually all services such as grocery stores, motels, restaurants, and service stations in surrounding non-Indian communities benefit from increased visitors to the reservations.

Sources: The National Indian Gaming Association publication "Tribal Gaming: Myths & Facts" and Indian Gaming, April 1997.

The Eagle Feather

"She was the matriarch of our tribe. Everything that we have here, she did for our people."
- Lori Gooday, Fort Sill Apache secretary-treasurer

The Native American Rights Fund is proud to honor one of our most cherished board members Mildred Cleghorn (Fort Sill Apache) who died in a car accident this past April. She was born in 1910 at Fort Sill in Oklahoma as a prisoner of war of the U.S. government. The tribe, then the Chiricahua Warm Springs Apache Tribe, was captured when Geronimo surrendered in 1886. When they were freed in 1913, they were offered land in either Oklahoma or Mescalero, New Mexico. Mildred's family chose to settle on 40 acres near Apache, Oklahoma.

After earning a degree in Business Administration from Oklahoma State University, Mildred taught in the Apache School District for about 20 years. In 1976 her tribe elected her Chairperson where she served for 18 years until she retired in 1995. A member of numerous boards and committees, including the National Hall of Fame for Famous American Indians, she became nationally known for the dolls she made that represented Indian tribes nationwide.


On June 23, 1997, the Supreme Court announced that it will review the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision which upheld the Native Village of Venetie's "Indian Country" status under federal law and thus its right to govern its own affairs. The Ninth Circuit's decision in State of Alaska v. Native Village of Venetie affirmed that the small 350 member tribe - situated in remote wilderness Alaska and accessible year-round only by plane - possesses the same rights as Indian tribes of the contiguous United States. This past winter, the State of Alaska fearing loss of political control appropriated a $1 million war chest to finance an appeal to the Supreme Court. Oral arguments on the case will be heard when the Supreme Court returns from its summer recess.

Over the years NARF has played a key role in the implementation of federal environmental law and policy that recognizes tribal governments as the primary regulators and enforcers of the federal environmental laws on Indian lands. On June 5, 1997 John Echohawk, NARF Executive Director, joined tribal representatives and the Clinton administration in signing a special order that says Indian tribes will protect fish and wildlife on their own lands. The order clarifies the Endangered Species Act's application to the 95 million acres of tribal trust lands across the country. Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt applauded the compact. "For too long we have failed to recognize the needs of Indian tribes to be consulted and part of the process from the beginning, and the traditional knowledge they can share about species, habitat and conversation."

Copyright 1997 ~ Native American Rights Fund