Treaty rights: Tribe talks to CL 'neighbors'

CASCADE LOCKS -- Tribal leaders visited the Cascade Locks City Council on Monday to foster greater understanding between "neighbors."

"It is good for your government board to become knowledgeable about our people and what we are about," said Rudy Clements, spokesperson for the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs.

He and Dennis Karnopp, tribal attorney, were warmly welcomed by council members during the 60-minute educational session about Indian culture and treaty rights.

"I think you'll find that we in this city will work with you however we can on anything you do," said Councilor Rob Brostoff.

Clement said in recent months a lot of misinformation has been circulated about the meaning of "sovereign nation" tribal rights. He said it is important for all citizens to realize that the promises given to the Warm Springs under the treaty of 1855 were as important today as they were at the time it was written -- even when it concerned the controversial topic of gaming.

Under that agreement, the U.S. government agreed to act as the "guardian," or tribal trustee, and protect the water, land, health, safety and education of the tribe.

Karnopp said the Wasco, Warm Springs and Paiute tribes consolidated to sign the treaty which only required them to negotiate issues with the federal government, the same as any other foreign nation. He said it is questionable whether the state of Oregon even has the authority to regulate tribal casinos as afforded it under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) of 1988. Although the state cannot deny a casino on trust land, it set some of the terms for operation.

Since the Warm Springs owned the 40-acre parcel just east of Hood River before IGRA was enacted, Karnopp said the property is held in trust and exempt from "outside" land-use regulation. Clement said that guarantees tribal rights to build a casino in that location, regardless of whether they are allowed to convert 160 acres of newly acquired adjacent parcels into trust to support the operation.

He said if that move is denied it will not stop the project, but the limited land base will require that the final design be multi-story and much more visible. Both Karnopp and Clement said they want to build a good working relationship with local governments on development of a casino above Hood River and possible construction of a destination resort in Cascade Locks. They believe, although that step is not required since the tribe is a sovereign entity, that if Hood River County officials accept the inevitability of the project they can work toward mitigating traffic and design concerns.

Karnopp also said that if it came down to a legal battle, the U.S. Supreme Court has clearly outlined that any ambiguity in treaty rights is to be decided in favor of the Indians because they suffered from a language disadvantage when the terms were written down in English.

Both Clement and Karnopp refuted recent assertions by casino opponents that the tribe did not need the $100 million or more of anticipated revenue from the casino. They said the "good faith" legal agreement between the U.S. and the Warm Springs needed to be honored the same as it would be for any other foreign nation, whose earning capacity was not open to debate.

A videotape played by Clements and Karnopp for Cascade Locks officials outlined that the confederated treaty was signed after the three river and plains tribes realized that the flood of settlers coming from the east would not be stemmed. Under that agreement, the Warm Springs turned 10 million acres over to the federal government. In exchange they were granted exclusive control over 640,000 acres of reservation land.

In recent years, Karnopp said the federal government has only been able to provide the tribe with limited resources and has encouraged a move toward self-sufficiency. Toward that end, the Warm Springs have diversified their financial holdings by harvesting timber, leasing land for two hydropower projects and constructing a destination resort. Tribal leaders plan to use the revenue from the casino to further upgrade services and provide a higher quality of life for the 4,000 tribal members, many of whom still have an income level far below federal poverty guidelines.

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