Modoc Nation moves forward in break with Klamath Tribes

By Lee Juillerat
Klamath Falls, Oregon (AP) August 2010

The recently created Modoc Nation, a group of Modoc Indians attempting to break away from the Klamath Tribes, is working to create its legitimacy among other Indian tribes and government agencies.

“How we become recognized is that we begin acting and behaving as what we truly are, a nation,” said Perry Chesnut, the Modocs’ secretary of state. “We’re going to end up with a brighter future for our people.”

Earlier this summer, Modocs – including several who are enrolled members of the Klamath Tribes, which includes Klamaths, Modocs and Yahooskins – declared their independence from the Klamath Tribes. Chesnut said nearly 100 adults, including 30 enrolled Klamaths, have obtained voting memberships.

Until the Modoc Nation is formally recognized and receives federal benefits, Chesnut said, Modocs are being instructed not to withdraw as members of the Klamath Tribes.

Chesnut said the split reflects 146 years of oppression by the Klamaths, including events that caused Modocs led by Captain Jack to leave the Klamath Reservation and begin the spiral of events that led to the Modoc War in 1872-73. He said differences between Modocs and Klamaths have persisted since then.

“There was no hope,” he said of divisions between Klamaths and Modocs. “The Modocs are just a captive group.”

Spokesmen for the Klamath Tribes declined to comment.

Efforts preparing for the split have been ongoing for about two years. In declaring their independence, Modoc Nation leaders said they are already a federally recognized tribe but claimed they have been under the “oppressive yoke of the Klamath government.”

Unlike the Klamaths, who require enrollees be at least one-quarter Klamath, Modoc or Yahooskin, Chesnut said the Modoc Nation has other standards, primarily based on lineal descent from a Modoc.

“That’s a road to extinction as a tribe,” he said of the one-quarter qualification, noting the Modocs will provide a genealogist and three-member citizenship committee to help determine eligibility.

M. Sean Manion will head an economic development committee to develop a self-sufficiency plan. During a meeting to discuss creating a separate tribe last fall, several said the Klamaths who have historically significantly outnumbered Modocs refused to pursue viable economic development programs.

Chesnut said a goal of the Modoc Nation is to become completely self-sufficient in 15 years and end any reliance on federal funding. He said the only desired long-range relationship will be to ensure the Modocs’ hunting, fishing, gathering and trapping rights are recognized.

“We want to be independent,” he said. “We don’t mind working for what we get.”

Chesnut said the Modocs have already established diplomatic relationships with other tribes, including the Pit River and Yahooskin, and are actively pursing recognition from other tribes.

Efforts are also being made to have the Modoc Nation recognized by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and the Modoc’s have made contact with environmental agencies and sent in comments to federal and state agencies on matters affecting Indian tribes.

The Modocs’ legislative members tentatively plan to meet in Klamath Falls in September and, Chesnut said, will request to meet with Klamath Tribes leaders “so we can both move forward in harmony and without conflict. We don’t have to have an adversarial relationship with the Klamaths.”