A brief history
According to Klamath tribal legend, the Creator and animals existed before humans, and consulted in their creation. For millennia, the indigenous Klamath tribes flourished in what is now called Oregon's Klamath Basin, east of the Cascade Mountains.
Theirs was a diligent culture. They subsisted on hunting, fishing, root and water lily seed gathering. Following the introduction of the horse on the North American continent, ownership of the animal became a sign of wealth. The tribes placed great emphasis on family solidarity and fidelity. The Klamath spoke two languages, Klamath and Modoc.
The first European to arrive in the region was a trapper from Hudson's Bay Company, Peter Skeen Ogden, in 1829. He opened trade relations with the tribes. Ogden was followed by explorers, missionaries, ranchers and settlers in the thousands. The tribes resisted the outsiders' encroachment until 1864, when they signed a treaty to formally capitulate, and relinquish some 23 million acres of their homeland. Then life on the new Klamath Reservation began.
Cattle raising was encouraged there and to this day it has been a successful venture for many tribal members. Members also took vocational training at the reservation agency and obtained gainful positions at various locations. Another successful venture was freighting, based on pre-European trade networks. In 1870, the Klamath Tribal Agency set up a sawmill from which lumber was delivered to Fort Klamath and other customers. With the advent of the railroad in 1911, lumber became a far more profitable commodity. By the 1950s, the Klamath ranked among the wealthier tribes in the country.
In 1954, federal recognition of the tribe was terminated by Congress, which ended that source of human services, and the reservation land base of 1.8 million acres was seized by condemnation. Nevertheless, in 1974, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the tribes had retained their treaty rights to subsistence hunting, fishing and gathering, and by 1986, federal recognition was restored -- albeit without giving back the land base.
The tribes were directed to draw up an economic self-sufficiency plan that eventually led to the construction of the Kla-Mo-Ya Casino, which opened in 1997.
The Klamath Tribes today
The outlook of today's Klamath peoples is summarized by the following:
"The mission of the Klamath Tribes is to protect, preserve, and enhance the spiritual, cultural, and physical values and resources of the Klamath, Modoc, and Yahooskin Peoples, by maintaining the customs and heritage of our ancestors. To establish a comprehensive unity by fostering the enhancement of spiritual and cultural values through a government whose function is to protect the human and cultural resources, treaty rights, and to provide for the development and delivery of social and economic opportunities for our People through effective leadership."
Economic self-sufficiency and land restoration are high priorities of the tribes. Today the members belong to an able tribal organization with an overall enrollment of around 3,500. The Klamath Tribes contribute approximately $25 million to Klamath County
coffers in goods and services.
Tribal government principally consists of a general council to which every member over the age of 18 belongs. The council meets quarterly. A tribal council elects its 10 members every four years. It is charged with oversight of daily tribal functions.
The administration puts tribal principles into effect by means of the following departments: tribal health and family services, social services, community services, natural resources, culture and heritage (including a tribal language program), education and employment, housing, KADA (drug and alcohol services), and planning. More than 250 taxpaying Klamath County residents work for the tribes.
Significant tribal events
On every New Year's Eve, the Klamath hold their Sobriety Powwow, an alcohol- and drug-free celebration with dancing, drumming, games, food, door prizes and other activities.
In March, the annual return of the /c'waan (Lost River Sucker) is celebrated as it swims up the Sprague River.
The Klamath, Modoc and Yahooskin remember the anniversary of their 1986 restoration to tribal status, in August.