Recent articles in the Capitol Weekly and the Eureka Times-Standard tell the strange and fascinating story behind Rep. Doug LaMalfa’s bill, HR3535 which would “restore” tribal recognition for a Native tribe, the “Ruffey Rancheria”. But there’s one problem: according to a recent study authored by history professor Dr. Stephen Dow Beckham, and commissioned by the Karuk Tribe, “No Indian ever lived on the property”.

“What LaMalfa’s bill is asking the federal government to do is restore a federal relationship with a piece of real estate, not with a tribe,” Beckham said to the Times-Standard on Saturday. “There is no tribe. He hasn’t documented a tribe.”

Despite numerous unanswered questions, on May 8 the bill passed through the House Natural Resources Committee on a 19-18 vote and is currently in the House Rules Committee. The Karuk Tribe noted, “Over 70 federal recognized California Tribes (have) called for a re-hearing on the bill.”

The Capitol Weekly noted, “…if Ruffey Rancheria receives federal tribal recognition it would allow them to establish a reservation anywhere in Siskiyou County and get water rights. The group would be on par with the Navajo Nation and the Sioux and could have the right to build a casino.”

The Karuk Tribe also wrote, “Possibly the most unsettling aspect of the Ruffey fabrication is the claims they make on Siskiyou County water resources. Although the original land purchased as Ruffey Rancheria had little in the way of water resources, HR 3535 would allow a restored Ruffey Rancheria to establish reservation lands anywhere in Siskiyou County and establish water claims. This could be disruptive for area farmers and fisheries restoration efforts.”

We at the Ecology Center always have the greatest respect for our local Native tribes, and for restoration of legitimate claims. However, this bill doesn’t pass the test. We don’t know if it is aimed at stopping the Klamath restoration, building a casino, or if it’s simply a water rights grab. There are no good answers here, and until there are, this bill should not go forward.