Statue of Chief Joseph Recommended for U.S. Capitol


Richard Walker, Indian Country Today


A state commission has recommended to legislators that statues of two pre-statehood figures representing Oregon in the U.S. Capitol’s National Statuary Hall be replaced by statues of Nez Perce leader Chief Joseph and women’s rights advocate Abigail Scott Duniway.

If approved by Oregon’s legislature, Chief Joseph’s statue would be the eighth of an indigenous figure in the National Statuary Hall. The others:

Sequoyah (c. 1770-1840), creator of the Cherokee syllabary; given by Oklahoma in 1917.

William Penn Adair “Will” Rogers, Cherokee (1879-1935), entertainer and social commentator; given by Oklahoma in 1939.

Kamehameha I, king of Hawaii (1758-1819); given by Hawaii in 1969.

Chief Washakie (c. 1798-1900), Eastern Shoshone leader; given by Wyoming in 2000.

Sacagawea, Lemhi Shoshone (c. 1788-1812), guide and interpreter for the Lewis and Clark Expedition; given by North Dakota in 2003.

Sarah Winnemucca, Paiute (1844-1891), educator, author, and defender of her people’s rights; given by Nevada in 2005.

Po’pay, Tewa (c. 1630-c. 1688), leader of the 1680 Pueblo Revolt against Spanish colonial rule; given by New Mexico in 2005.

Sequoyah’s statue was the first representing a Native American to be placed in Statuary Hall. Kamehameha’s statue, at 9 feet 10 inches tall on a 3-foot-6-inch granite base, is the largest and heaviest in Statuary Hall. The statue of Po’pay is the first in Statuary Hall by a Native American artist, Cliff Fragua, Jemez Pueblo. Gov. John Kitzhaber, Dr. John McLoughlin, Rev. Jason Lee,

Since 2003, seven states have replaced statues with those representing figures they feel better represent their history or contributions to humankind. In August 2014, then-Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber established the Statuary Hall Study Commission to determine whether Oregon’s statues of pre-statehood leaders Dr. John McLoughlin (1784-1857) and Rev. Jason Lee (1803-1845) should remain or be replaced by other notable Oregonians.

Commission chairman Jerry Hudson notified Kitzhaber and legislative leaders on January 26 that the commission had unanimously agreed to recommend the statues of McLoughlin, the Hudson’s Bay Company’s superintendent at Fort Vancouver, and Lee, missionary and founder of Willamette University, be returned to “places of honor” in Oregon and that “two equally worthy individuals who represent different chapters in Oregon’s history” be installed in National Statuary Hall, according to the commission’s website.

On March 4, the commission made the recommendation formal with a vote. According to, Chief Joseph received seven votes from the nine-member commission, Duniway received six.

Jim Boyd is chairman of the Confederate Tribes of the Colville Reservation, where descendants of Chief Joseph’s Wallowa band are enrolled today.

“The statue of Chief Joseph at Statuary Hall in D.C. will be a great honor to Chief Joseph and to all those who have been left a legacy that has helped mold who we are today as very proud Indian people,” Boyd said.

“He stood strong and fought hard for his people and territory in a way that will always be remembered, and will continue to inspire and guide what will be for generations to come. It is a great thing that the state of Oregon is initiating this legislation.”

According to a state biography, Chief Joseph, or Heinmot Tooyalakekt (Thunder Rising to Loftier Mountain Heights), was born in 1840 in the Wallowa Valley of eastern Oregon. His father, Tuekakas, was the leader of the largest of independent Nimiipuu, or Nez Perce, bands living in Oregon, central Idaho, and southeastern Washington. Heinmot Tooyalakekt became leader in 1871 upon his father’s death.

Heinmot Tooyalakekt’s band never agreed to an 1863 treaty that surrendered 90 percent of Nimiipuu lands, and resisted the federal government’s order to abandon their ancestral lands and move onto a small reservation.

According to the biography: “In meetings and councils from 1874 to 1877 with army officers, Indian agents, and a delegation from Washington, D.C., [Heinmot Tooyalakekt] argued persistently that the resistant Nez Perce bands were not bound by the 1863 treaty. As a follower of the Dreamer religion of the Columbia Plateau, he pleaded as well that his people were intimately bound to their homeland and could never leave it, and that to become farmers, as the government insisted, would violate the Earth Mother.”

In spring 1877, Gen. Oliver O. Howard, commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific Northwest, insisted that all resisting bands report to the reservation within a month. (According to another bio, this forced removal violated the 1855 Treaty of Walla Walla, in which the Nez Perce reserved 7.5 million acres of their ancestral lands and the right to hunt and fish in their usual and accustomed territory.) Howard’s order resulted in the Nez Perce War of June to October 1877.

Heinmot Tooyalakekt and other Nimiipuu were captured 40 miles from the U.S.-Canada border. It was here, at the base of the Bear’s Paw Mountains near present-day Chinook, Montana, that Heinmot Tooyalakekt made his brief speech of surrender that reportedly ended with, “From where the sun now stands I will fight no more forever.”

According to the state’s biography, Heinmot Tooyalakekt “was never a war leader. He was, rather, a diplomat and a negotiator, and he made his greatest contribution in that role after the war.” The U.S. exiled the Nimiipuu to Indian Territory, present-day Oklahoma. For eight years, Heinmot Tooyalakekt campaigned for his people’s return to the Pacific Northwest. He spoke with the press, politicians and President Rutherford B. Hayes about the injustices committed against his people.

Finally, in 1885, the Nimiipuu were allowed to return to reservations in Idaho and Washington, but not to eastern Oregon. Heinmot Tooyalakekt visited, but never again lived in, the Wallowa Valley.

Heinmot Tooyalakekt, Chief Joseph, died in his home on the Colville Reservation on September 21, 1904. His grave, marked by a large monument, is in Nespelem on the reservation.

First statue placed in 1870

According to the Architect of the U.S. Capitol: National Statuary Hall, located south of the Rotunda, was the meeting place of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1807 to 1857.

In 1864, in accordance with legislation sponsored by Rep. Justin Morrill of Vermont, Congress invited each state to contribute two statues of prominent citizens for permanent display in the room, which was renamed National Statuary Hall. The first statue was placed in 1870.

“Today, National Statuary Hall is one of the most popular rooms in the U.S. Capitol Building,” according to the Architect’s website, “It is visited by thousands of tourists each day and continues to be used for ceremonial occasions. Special events held in the room include activities honoring foreign dignitaries and presidential luncheons.”



Missing Section Of Nez Perce Trail Holds Little-Known Part Of History


By Jessica Robinson, NW News Network


The story most people learn about the Nez Perce Tribe and the capture of Chief Joseph doesn’t tell the whole history.


Ruth Wapato of Spokane is the granddaughter of one of the members of the Nez Perce Tribe who fought alongside Chief Joseph in 1877.
Credit Jessica Robinson / Northwest News Network


Now the federal government and Northwest Tribes are trying to fix that with a new historic site.

You may have heard about the Nez Perce’s epic 1,200-mile flight through Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming and Montana in 1877. The U.S. Army caught up with them before they could reach Canada. And in history books and documentaries, the story usually ends with the tribe being forced to surrender just 42 miles from the border — and freedom.

But in fact, for about a third of the Nez Perce, it didn’t end there. Nearly 300 people escaped the battlefield and did cross into Canada.

Ruth Wapato’s grandfather was one of them. Wapato is part of a group that’s been working to get the federal government to recognize the final leg in the Nez Perce National Historic Trail.


Map of the current Nez Perce National Historic Trail.
Credit U.S. Forest Service


“They weren’t all off together, some up front, some way behind,” Wapato said. “Their moccasins torn and worn out, you know. And it was cold — in October. But they were on their way.”

Some stayed and their descendants remain in Canada. Wapato’s grandfather returned to the U.S. and was arrested and sent to Oklahoma.

The Forest Service is holding a series of public meetings in Oregon, Idaho and Washington through early October. They’re asking for public comment on adding an extra section and making other updates to the trail.

Meetings in the Northwest:

    • Kamiah, Idaho – September 22, 2014, 7-9 p.m. PDT
      Kamiah Emergency Services Bldg. (Fire Hall)


    • Spalding, Idaho – September 23, 2014, 7-9 p.m. PDT
      Nez Perce National Historical Park


    • Enterprise, Oregon – September 24, 2014, 7-9 p.m. PDT
      Wallowa Valley Chamber


    • Pendleton, Oregon – September 25, 2014, 7-9 p.m. PDT
      Umatilla National Forest Headquarters


  • Grand Coulee, Washington – October 9, 2014, 7-9 p.m. PDT
    Grand Coulee Senior Center

Fresh Columbia River Chinook Salmon! Tribes Open Sale Memorial Day Weekend

Courtesy Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish CommissionFresh-caught fish for sale on the Columbia River
Courtesy Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission
Fresh-caught fish for sale on the Columbia River
Indian Country Today

For Memorial Day weekend, leaders from the Umatilla, Yakama, Warm Springs and Nez Perce tribes opened a two-night commercial gillnet fishery that will bring ample amounts of fresh spring chinook to the salmon-loving public. The latest fishery comes on the heels of an above average spring chinook run which should reach 224,000 returning adults. This spring’s commercial fishery will be the largest in the last four years.

“The tribes are just one the many communities benefiting from this year’s spring chinook run,” said Paul Lumley, Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission’s executive director. “For the first time in four years, we are thrilled to share the coveted spring chinook salmon with our loyal customers that appreciate fresh and locally-caught fish.”

A tribal fisher checks his nets along the Columbia River. (Courtesy Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission)
A tribal fisher checks his nets along the Columbia River. (Courtesy Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission)


Indian fishers may be found selling fish at a number of locations along the river including Marine Park at Cascade Locks, Lone Pine at The Dalles, and the boat launch near Roosevelt, Washington as well as other locations. Commercial sales will not occur on Corps of Engineers property at Bonneville Dam. Information on where the day’s catch is being sold is available by calling Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission’s salmon marketing program at (888) 289-1855 or visiting the salmon marketing website Price is determined at the point of sale and sales are cash only.

The tribal fishery is protected by treaties made with the federal government in 1855, where the right to fish at all usual and accustomed fishing places in the Columbia River basin was reserved. The tribal treaty right extends beyond ceremonial and subsistence fisheries to commercial sales. The Columbia River fisheries are adjusted throughout the season in accordance with management agreements and observed returns.



Fight Over Energy Finds a New Front in a Corner of Idaho


Rich Addicks for The New York TimesU.S. Highway 12, which snakes along the Clearwater River in North Central Idaho, was the scene of a protest by the Nez Perce tribe in August. More Photos »
Rich Addicks for The New York Times
U.S. Highway 12, which snakes along the Clearwater River in North Central Idaho, was the scene of a protest by the Nez Perce tribe in August. Click image for more Photos 


September 25, 2013


LAPWAI, Idaho — In this remote corner of the Northwest, most people think of gas as something coming from a pump, not a well. But when it comes to energy, remote isn’t what it used to be.

The Nez Perce Indians, who have called these empty spaces and rushing rivers home for thousands of years, were drawn into the national brawl over the future of energy last month when they tried to stop a giant load of oil-processing equipment from coming through their lands.

The setting was U.S. Highway 12, a winding, mostly two-lane ribbon of blacktop that bisects the tribal homeland here in North Central Idaho.

That road, a hauling company said in getting a permit for transit last month from the state, is essential for transporting enormous loads of oil-processing equipment bound for the Canadian tar sands oil fields in Alberta.

When the hauler’s giant load arrived one night in early August, more than 200 feet long and escorted by the police under glaring lights, the tribe tried to halt the vehicle, with leaders and tribe members barricading the road, willingly facing arrest. Tribal lawyers argued that the river corridor, much of it beyond the reservation, was protected by federal law, and by old, rarely tested treaty rights.

And so the Nez Perce, who famously befriended Lewis and Clark in 1805, and were later chased across the West by the Army (“I will fight no more forever,” Chief Joseph said in surrender, in 1877), were once again drawn into questions with no neat answers: Where will energy come from, and who will be harmed or helped by the industry that supplies it?

Tribal leaders, in defending their actions, linked their protest of the shipments, known as megaload transports, to the fate of indigenous people everywhere, to climate change and — in terms that echo an Occupy Wall Street manifesto — to questions of economic power and powerlessness.

“The development of American corporate society has always been — and it’s true throughout the world — on the backs of those who are oppressed, repressed or depressed,” said Silas Whitman, the chairman of the tribal executive committee, in an interview.

Mr. Whitman called a special meeting of the committee as the transport convoy approached, and announced that he would obstruct it and face arrest. Every other board member present, he and other tribe members said, immediately followed his lead.

“We couldn’t turn the cheek anymore,” said Mr. Whitman, 72.

The dispute spilled into Federal District Court in Boise, where the Nez Perce, working alongside an environmental group, Idaho Rivers United, carried the day. Chief Judge B. Lynn Winmill, in a decision this month, halted further transports until the tribe, working in consultation with the United States Forest Service, could study their potential effect on the environment and the tribe’s culture.

The pattern, energy and lands experts said, is clear even if the final outcome here is not: What happens in oil country no longer stays in oil country.

“For the longest time in North America, you had very defined, specific areas where you had oil and gas production,” said Bobby McEnaney, a senior lands analyst at the Natural Resources Defense Council. A band stretching up from the Gulf of Mexico into the Rocky Mountains was about all there was.

But now, Mr. McEnaney said, the infrastructure of transport and industrial-scale production, not to mention the development of hydraulic fracturing energy recovery techniques, and the proposed Keystone XL pipeline from Canada, are affecting more and more places.

The Nez Perce’s stand, in a way, makes Mr. McEnaney’s point. The tribe’s fight, and the galvanizing decision by its leaders to step in front of the transport, drew in people who had not been involved before.

“Our history is conservative. You don’t go to court, you don’t fight,” said Julian Matthews, another tribe member. The fighting stance by tribal leadership, he said, was partly driven by pressure from members like him, already pledged to opposition.

Others described the board’s decision as a thunderbolt. After the special meeting where leaders agreed they would face arrest together, the news blazed through social media on and off the reservation.

“Everybody knew it in an hour,” said Angela Picard, who came during the four nights of protest when the load was still on tribal lands, and was one of 28 tribe members arrested.

Pat Rathmann, a soft-spoken Unitarian Universalist church member in Moscow, Idaho, heard the new tone coming from the reservation. A debate over conservation and local environmental impact, she said, had suddenly become a discussion about the future of the planet.

“The least I could do was drive 30 miles to stand at their side,” said Ms. Rathmann, whose church has declared climate change to be a moral issue, and recently sponsored a benefit concert in Moscow to raise money for the tribal defense fund.

The equipment manufacturer, a unit of General Electric, asked the judge last week to reconsider his injunction, partly because of environmental impacts of not delivering the loads. Millions of gallons of fresh water risk being wasted if the large cargo — water purification equipment that is used in oil processing — cannot be installed before winter, the company said.

“Although this case involves business interests, underlying this litigation are also public interests surrounding the transportation of equipment produced in the U.S. for utilization in wastewater recycling that benefits the environment,” the company said.

The risks to the Nez Perce are also significant in the months ahead. Staking a legal case on treaty rights, though victorious so far in Judge Winmill’s court, means taking the chance, tribal leaders said, that a higher court, perhaps in appeal of the judge’s decision, will find those rights even more limited than before.

But for tribe members like Paulette Smith, the summer nights of protest are already being transformed by the power of tribe members feeling united around a cause.

“It was magic,” said Ms. Smith, 44, who was among those arrested. Her 3-year-old grandson was there with her — too young to remember, she said, but the many videos made that night to document the event will one day help him understand.

A version of this article appears in print on September 26, 2013, on page A17 of the New York edition with the headline: Fight Over Energy Finds A New Front in a Corner of Idaho.

He’s 12, He’s Fast and He’s an All American

By Jack McNeel, Indian Country Today Media Network

Few people can say they’re All American athletes by their twelfth birthday.

Xavier Guillory has taken it one step further with his second title in a national track and field competition. Two years ago in Wichita, and this year in Greensboro, North Carolina, Xavier, a Nez Perce tribal member, achieved All American status.

The 12 year-old competed in the U.S.A. Track and Field Junior Olympic National Championships which were held in late July in Greensboro. Xavier qualified to race in three events at the National Championships: 400 meters, 800 meters, and 1500 meters. Brackets are broken down into two-year age levels and he competed in the 11-12 age bracket.

The country is divided into 16 regions and athletes must qualify as one of the top five finishers in their events at regional competitions to be eligible to compete at the National Championships where only the top eight in each event earn All-American status. About 8500 track athletes from around the country compete in regional events and even qualifying for nationals is a major accomplishment.

In the regional tournament held earlier this year in Seattle, Xavier set a new club and personal best time of 2:18 in the 800 meters, running for the Mercury Track Club of Spokane. “He ran an incredible race and everything came together,” said his father, Raphael Guillory. “Last year his fastest time was around 2.25.”


Xavier with his parents (Photo courtesy the Guillory family)
Xavier with his parents (Photo courtesy the Guillory family)


But during the Nationals, running conditions were not optimal at race time. Temperatures were hovering in the 80’s and humidity was high. Then, just before the 800 meter race was to start, a lightning storm hit. The runners were taken to the lockers to sit and wait until the storm passed and they remained there for nearly three hours.

One good thing came from this unexpected delay. It gave the kids a chance to get acquainted. Xavier later told his dad that one of the things he enjoyed most about the Nationals was getting to know the kids he was competing against.

When the race finally did start, it ended in a tight finish. “It was a pack coming around that last 100 meters,” Raphael recalled. “As they sprinted for the goal they kind of thinned out. There was only about three seconds between first and eighth place finishers.” Xavier finished 8th, but just over two seconds behind the winner.

So how did Xavier feel about the national meet? “Even though I’m experienced there, there’s still that feeling it’s my first year. I’m nervous, just thinking about the races the whole time. It’s fun but you also have to get serious about it. The thing I have trouble thinking about is competing with national athletes.”

He also ran in the 400 and 1500 meter finals. His finishes weren’t quite as high, finishing 35th of 52 runners in the 400 and finishing 14th of 41 runners in the 1500, but Xavier was competing with the nations’ best junior runners.

“It’s a lot of training; a lot of discipline,” Xavier added. “All the hours you put in for a short amount of time for a race, but you need it.”

He hopes and plans to return next year where he will move up a class to the youth division. But for right now, it’s football season. Fortunately the two sports don’t overlap. “There’s the side of me that wants to take track,” he says. He’s a running back in football and says this year he’ll also play cornerback, “and kick returner and punt returner,” he adds.

His family also stresses education. “Xavier has done very well. He’s really strong in science and reading and writing,” Raphael says. He’s now moving into middle school and they have him in a summer math program just to keep his chops up mathematically and to give him that added confidence.

“When we got back I told him to just be a kid; play with your sisters, go to the store, run around, hang out,” Raphael said. “Then football is mentioned and he’s going out[side] with his football. The kid’s a motor. I tell him to chill out and he just doesn’t know,” Raphael laughs.



Eat Insanely Fresh Native Salmon: Four Tribes Open Fishery On Columbia River

Courtesy Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish CommissionA tribal fisher loads fall chinook into their boat on the Columbia River near Hood River, Oregon.

Courtesy Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission
A tribal fisher loads fall chinook into their boat on the Columbia River near Hood River, Oregon.

Source: Indian Country Today Media Network

Starting August 19, fishers from the Nez Perce, Umatilla, Warm Springs and Yakama tribes will drop their gill nets in the Columbia River.

During the 2013 fall commercial season, this first gill net fishery can harvest up to 200,000 fish or an estimated 2.5 million pounds of salmon. The fresh catch of salmon, steelhead and coho will be sold commercially directly from Indian fishers to the public. Sales to the public should last into October with peak abundance from just before Labor Day through mid-September. Much of the harvest is sold to wholesale fish dealers and can be found in stores and restaurants around the Northwest and beyond.

Fisheries biologists estimate that the 2013 fall chinook return will be well above average with 677,900 fall chinook entering the Columbia and over 575,000 destined for areas upstream of the Bonneville Dam. Fishery managers also predict a record return of wild Snake River fall chinook and over 130,000 coho.

“Many of the salmon returning to the Columbia River are the direct result of tribal restoration efforts, joint state and tribal programs and several tribal and federal partnerships that are increasing the abundance of salmon in upriver areas,” said Paul Lumley, executive director for the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission.

During the harvest, managers actively monitor the returns so they can adjust the harvest levels as needed to keep the fisheries within strict harvest limits established under the US v. Oregon fisheries management agreement.

The tribal fishery offers an ample supply of fish for the public through over-the-bank sales. Common sales locations include: Marine Park in Cascade Locks, Lone Pine in The Dalles, North Bonneville—one mile east of Bonneville Dam, and Columbia Point in Washington’s Tri-Cities area.

Individuals interested in purchasing tribally caught fish should keep the following tips in mind:
•    Sales from tribal fishers generally run from 10 a.m. to dusk.
•    Price is determined at the point of sale.
•    Most sales are cash only.
•    Buyers should request a receipt.
•    Tribal fishers can advise on topics including fish freshness and preparation.

The public is urged to call the salmon marketing program at (888) 289-1855 before heading up the river to find out where the day’s catch is being sold. More information is available on the salmon marketing website Follow @ColumbiaSalmon on Twitter for updates.



Chaos on the Clearwater River: Second night of tar sands megaload blockades

nez-perceSource: Earth First! Newswire

After a three-hour blockade involving upwards of 150-200 people from the Nez Perce Nation, Idle No More, and Wild Idaho Rising Tide, activists once again dedicated themselves last night to stopping megaload shipments through Idaho.

Omega Morgan, the company responsible for the transport of the 200-ton megaload, has been warned by the Forest Service that the shipment is unauthorized, and the Nez Perce tribe is seeking an injunction. However, Omega Morgan is trying to sneak the megaload through against the law, so direct action must be taken.

The Nez Perce put out a call yesterday for activists to join them in renewed efforts to stop the tar sands equipment from moving through Highway 12. More than 50 protestors came out. They were met by a force of 40-50 police officers in a fleet of cars.

Police gave protesters 15 minutes to speak out as they blocked the roadway, before being forced to move to the shoulder. Some young activists decided to maintain the presence of the blockade by heaving boulders and large rocks into the streets, which held traffic up further.

Several Nez Perce tribe-members were arrested, adding to the 19 arrested on Monday night (including the entire executive committee).

Economy, distrust complicate allocation of tribal settlement money

High Country News
News – From the February 18, 2013 issue
by Debra Utacia Krol

 When the Obama administration announced in April that it would pay 41 tribes some $1 billion to settle a lawsuit over federal mismanagement of trust funds, many saw it as a sort of stimulus package for Indian Country — a chance to invest in long-term development and infrastructure, such as schools, clinics and roads.

“The seeds that we plant today will profit us in the future,” Gary Hayes, chairman of southwestern Colorado’s Ute Mountain Utes, told the Associated Press. “These agreements mark a new beginning, one of just reconciliation, better communication … and strengthened management.” His tribe, which received $43 million, initially planned to distribute about $2,000 to each of its 2,100 members, dividing the rest — about 90 percent — between the tribe’s general fund and investments. The Utes have long wanted to build a school on the reservation and improve health care.

But a few months later, Hayes was facing a recall election over the plan, and all the funds were being distributed on a per capita basis, under pressure from tribal members. The same response has echoed from tribe to tribe across the West — one that speaks to both the hard economic times and the lack of trust in leadership in Indian Country.

In 2006, 40 tribes joined Idaho’s Nez Perce in filing suit against the U.S. Department of the Interior, alleging a century of mismanaged trust funds and royalties for oil, gas, grazing and timber rights on lands held in common by tribal communities. It’s a different battlefront than the better-known class-action lawsuit filed by Montana Blackfeet leader Elouise Cobell, which represents individual Natives whose resources were mismanaged by the agency. The $3.4 billion settlement of the Cobell case authorized by Congress in 2010 is finally being resolved after being tangled up in the courts, but the resolution of Nez Perce et al. v. Salazar allowed checks to be issued relatively quickly.

As the funds began rolling in, however, conflict, not celebration, ensued. Nearly every tribe that had hoped to invest or save or otherwise spend the money has met with resistance from tribal members who prefer to see it distributed on a per capita basis. Some have used social media to make their point, campaigning on Facebook and Twitter to pressure leaders to “show us the money.”

It’s not surprising: Native communities are plagued by economic troubles, and a check for $10,000 or so can make a big difference to an individual or a family. According to U.S. Census figures, one in four Native Americans lives in poverty; nearly half the families in Hayes’ Ute Mountain Ute Tribe live below the poverty line. The prospect of that money vanishing into the coffers of a tribal government that may have a history of corruption understandably worries some tribal members.

Miriam Jorgensen, research director of the Native Nations Institute at the University of Arizona, says that the distrust over the settlements’ use is a two-way street. “Tribal citizens can find it hard to trust that their leaders will not use the settlement monies for personal or political gain, and leaders can find it difficult to trust that tribal citizens will not simply let the money slip through their fingers.”

 Jorgensen likens the dilemma to the larger national discussion over taxes. “You want them cut or raised depending on the perceptions you have about how the money will be used,” she says. “But what is clear from both logic and research is that the tribal settlement monies, whether they are distributed to citizens or managed by tribal governments, will be of greatest use if they can be invested and spent in ways that generate benefits for the tribal community for years to come.”

The greatest beneficiaries so far are the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, a group of 12 tribes in eastern Washington, which received $193 million for mismanaged timber and range leases. Last summer, a major windstorm battered tribal forests, knocking down the equivalent of more than 2.5 million board-feet of lumber along with 200 power poles, and wildfires destroyed two families’ homes. The Colville Business Council had initially planned to use 80 percent of the settlement funds to restore the forests and to invest in other long-term projects, and disburse the remaining 20 percent, or about $4,000 to each of the 9,500 members.

But then Joanne Sanchez of Omak, Wash., a member of the Colville Tribe, decided that tribal members deserved a larger share. The recession has hit the reservation hard. In 2008, as the national economy was crashing, the two core local employers — a plywood manufacturing facility that also included a pilot power plant and the tribe’s lumber mill — shut down. Close to 700 jobs were lost in Omak, a community of about 3,500. “We have had hardship piled upon hardship,” says Yvonne Swann, 69, another tribal member fighting for distribution. Sanchez circulated a petition calling for a referendum on whether to distribute more funds to individuals and encouraged local media to cover the issue. Her efforts paid off: The tribe overwhelmingly supported the referendum. The tribal business council agreed to give each member another $6,100 in addition to the first payment. Now, about half of the total amount has been distributed.

“We’re at the lowest point economically, and we’ve been there for a while,” says Colville Business Council Chairman John Sirois, who has a master’s degree in public administration. “I can totally see why the people needed the extra funds — they need to pay bills that have been put off. They have medical bills.” The Colville Council still plans to use what’s left over for forest restoration and to mitigate the wildfires’ impacts on the land and water.

The original plaintiff in the case, the Nez Perce Tribe, distributed most of the $33.7 million it received to tribal members, but held back $3 million for the Native American Rights Fund, which handled the litigation.

And where are the millions paid out to individuals going? With a dearth of places to spend it in Indian Country, much of it appears to be stimulating the border town economy, instead. Take Cortez, Colo., an off-reservation town adjacent to the Ute Mountain Ute tribe, where total sales tax revenues increased by about 10 percent during the weeks when settlement checks of about $12,500 each were sent out. Car dealerships did especially well.

In the meantime, the conflict within other tribes continues. Swann, the Colville elder, is leading a charge there to get all of the money distributed. And in January, the 3,000-member Hoopa Valley Tribe in northern California voted to give themselves 100 percent of their $49.2 million settlement. Recently elected Councilman Ryan Jackson, who created a Facebook site to communicate with his constituency about the settlement and other issues, acknowledged that the central issue is “how the trust funds will be managed.” Jackson now plans to run for chairman.