Klamath Tribes

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The Klamath Tribes, formerly the Klamath Indian Tribe of Oregon, are a federally recognized Native American Nation consisting of three Native American tribes who traditionally inhabited Southern Oregon and Northern California in the United States: the Klamath, Modoc, and Yahooskin. The tribal government is based in Chiloquin, Oregon.


In the old times Klamath' believed everything needed to live was provided for by Creator in this rich land east of the Cascades. The Klamath people still believe this. They saw success as a reward for virtuous striving and likewise as an assignment of spiritual favor, thus, "Work hard so that people will respect you", was the counsel of the elders. For thousands upon countless thousands of years the Klamath people survived by our industriousness. When the months of long winter nights were upon them, they survived on prudent reserves from the abundant seasons. Toward the end of March, when supplies dwindled, large fish runs surged up the Williamson, Sprague, and Lost River. At the place on the Sprague River where gmok'am'c first instituted the tradition, the Klamath's still celebrate the Return of c'waam Ceremony.

The six tribes of the Klamaths were bound together by ties of loyalty and Family, they lived along the Klamath Marsh, on the banks of Agency Lake, near the mouth of the Lower Williamson River, on Pelican Bay, beside the Link River, and in the uplands of the Sprague River Valley. The Modoc's lands included the Lower Lost River, around Clear Lake, and the territory that extended south as far as the mountains beyond Goose Lake. The Yahooskin Bands occupied the area east of the Yamsay Mountain, south of Lakeview, and north of Fort Rock. EveMaprything we needed was contained within these lands.

In 1826 Peter Skeen Ogden, a fur trapper from the Hudson's Bay Company, was the first white man to leave his footprints on Klamath lands. One hundred and seventy five years later those footprints have multiplied into the thousands, each leaving their marks on the lands and the Klamath Tribes. The newcomers came first as explorers, then as missionaries, settlers and ranchers. After decades of hostilities with the invaders, the Klamath Tribes ceded more than 23 million acres of land in 1864 and we entered the reservation era. They did, however, retain rights to hunt, fish and gather in safety on the lands reserved for the people "in perpetuity" forever.

From the first, Klamath Tribal members demonstrated an eagerness to turn new economic opportunities to our advantage. Under the reservation program, cattle ranching was promoted. In the pre-reservation days horses were considered an important form of wealth and the ownership of cattle was easily accepted. Tribal members took up ranching, and were successful at it. Today the cattle industry still remains an important economic asset for many of us. The quest for economic self-sufficiency was pursued energetically and with determination by Tribal members. Many, both men and women, took advantage of the vocational training offered at the Agency and soon held a wide variety of skilled jobs at the Agency, at the Fort Klamath military post, and in the town of Linkville. Due to the widespread trade networks established by the Tribes long before the settlers arrived, another economic enterprise that turned out to be extremely successful during the reservation period was freighting, in August 1889, there were 20 Tribal teams working year-round to supply the private and commercial needs of the rapidly growing county. A Klamath Tribal Agency - sponsored sawmill was completed in 1870 for the purpose of constructing the Agency. After signing the 1864 treaty, members of the Klamath Tribes were forcibly placed upon the Klamath Indian Reservation. At the time there was tension between the Klamath and the Modoc. A band of Modoc left the reservation to return to Northern California. They were defeated by the US Army after the Modoc War (1872–73), and were forced to return to Oregon.[1]

The Twentieth Century[edit]

By 1873, Tribal members were selling lumber to Fort Klamath and many other private parties, and by 1896 the sale to parties outside of the reservation was estimated at a quarter of a million board feet. With the arrival of the railroad in 1911, reservation timber became extremely valuable. The economy of Klamath County was sustained by it for decades. By the 1950s the Klamath Tribes were one of the wealthiest Tribes in the United States. We owned and judiciously managed for long term yield, the largest remaining stand of Ponderosa pine in the west. We were entirely self-sufficient. We were the only tribes in the United States that paid for all the federal, state and private services used by our members.

In 1954, the US Congress terminated federal recognition of tribal sovereignty of the Klamath, part of an effort to assimilate American Indians judged ready to be part of mainstream culture. The Klamath Tribes were terminated from federal recognition as a tribe by an act of congress. During the process of termination the elected Tribal representatives consistently opposed termination. There was, in addition, a report from the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) which concluded that the Klamath Tribes were NOT ready for termination and recommended against it. Despite this consistent official opposition from the Tribes and the BIA, congress adopted the Klamath Termination Act (P. L 587). Not only did we see the end of federal recognition and supplemental human services, but tragically our reservation land base of approximately 1.8 million acres was taken by condemnation and the Klamaths were terminated as a Tribe. This single act of Congress had devastating effects on the Klamath Tribes and several other tribes across the country.

Tribes' Position on Termination

In 1974 the Federal Court ruled that we had retained our Treaty Rights to hunt, fish and gather, and to be consulted in land management decisions when those decisions affected our Treaty Rights. In 1986, we were successful in regaining Restoration of Federal Recognition for our Tribes. Although our land base was not returned to us, we were directed to compose a plan to regain economic self-sufficiency. Our Economic Self-sufficiency Plan reflects the Klamath Tribes' continued commitment to playing a pivotal role in the local economy.

Klamath Indian Reservation[edit]

The present-day Klamath Indian Reservation consists of twelve small non-contiguous parcels of land in Klamath County.[2] These fragments are generally located in and near the communities of Chiloquin and Klamath Falls. Their total land area is 1.248 km² (308.43 acres). As is the case with many Native American tribes,[3] today few of the Klamath tribal members live on the reservation; the 2000 census reported only nine persons resided on its territory, five of whom were white people.[4] There is currently a dispute of blood quantum being discussed by tribal members.

Water rights dispute[edit]

Upper Basin Klamath Tribes demonstration in Portland in 2006

In 2001, an ongoing water rights dispute between the Klamath Tribes, Klamath Basin farmers, and fishermen along the Klamath River became national news. As of 2006, the water rights issue is still controversial. To improve fishing for salmon and the quality of the salmon runs, the Klamath Tribes are pressing for dams to be demolished on the upper rivers, as they have reduced the salmon runs.

By signing the Treaty of 1864, 16 Stat. 707,[5] the Klamath tribe ceded 20 million acres (81,000 km2) of land but retained 2 million acres (8,100 km2) and the rights to fish, hunt, trap, and gather from the lands and waters as they have traditionally done for centuries.[6]

As part of an effort at assimilation, in 1954 the US Congress had terminated the federal relationship with the Klamath Tribes, but stated in the Klamath Termination Act, "Nothing in this [Act] shall abrogate any water rights of the tribe and its members... Nothing in this [Act] shall abrogate any fishing rights or privileges of the tribe or the members thereof enjoyed under Federal treaty."[6]

The states of California and Oregon have both tried to challenge Klamath water rights, but have been rebuffed. Local farmers tried unsuccessfully to claim water rights in the 2001 cases, Klamath Water Users Association v. Patterson and Kandra v. United States but these were decided in favor of the Department of Interior's right to give precedence to tribal fishing in its management of water flows and rights in the Klamath Basin.[6] In 2002 U.S. District Judge Owen M. Panner ruled that the Klamath Tribes' right to water preceded that of non-tribal irrigators in the court case United States vs. Adair, originally filed in 1975.[7]


There are currently around 4,500 enrolled members in the Klamath Tribes,[8] with the population centered in Klamath County, Oregon. Most tribal land was liquidated when Congress ended federal recognition in 1954 under its forced Indian termination policy. Some lands were restored when recognition was restored. The tribal administration currently offers services throughout the county.


The Klamath Tribes opened the Kla-Mo-Ya Casino in Chiloquin, Oregon in 1997. It provides revenue which the tribe uses to support governance and investment for tribal benefit.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ http://www.klamathtribes.org/history.html
  2. ^ The Klamath and Modoc Tribes and Yahooskin Band of Snake Indians v. The United States Finding of Fact, Oklahoma History Center, 1969 (retrieved 25 Nov 2009)
  3. ^ "U.S. Society > Native Americans." US Diplomatic Mission to Germany. (retrieved 25 Nov 2009)
  4. ^ "Klamath Reservation, Oregon". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2006-11-29. 
  5. ^ "Treaty with the Klamath, etc.". Oklahoma State University. Retrieved 2009-11-25. 
  6. ^ a b c "Klamath Tribes' Water Rights." The Klamath Tribes. (retrieved 25 Nov 2009)
  7. ^ "Judge affirms Klamath Tribes' water right of time immemorial", U.S. Water News Online, March 2002 (retrieved 25 Nov 2009)
  8. ^ "The Klamath Tribes Today". The Klamath Tribes. Retrieved 2009-09-29. 

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