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Karuk and descendants dispute rights to tribal land

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Controversy is brewing involving California Indian tribes, with local and national ramifications.

U.S. House Bill 3535 was introduced by Representative Doug La Malfa to give roughly 440 acres back to a Native American tribe.

The only issue: there is no public record of indigenous people ever living there.

The plot of land is called Ruffey Rancheria .

Its a mountainous, forested plot outside of Etna, CA.

It was originally granted to two Indian families in 1907 under a federal program, but no records indicate it ever being inhabited.

That history is being fiercely disputed by the Karuk tribe of Siskiyou County who agrees that none of their ancestors inhabited the property, and one Karuk descendent, Taj Gomes, who insists they did .

That property was sold off to a timber company. Because it is privately owned now, the bill would give Mr. Gomes the ability to establish a similar sized plot anywhere in Siskiyou County.

"It'll be a reservation, with just as many rights as any other reservation, and so what will happen is it will completely disrupt present water rights that farmers have and irigators have and they need in order to sustain their families and their economy," says Joshua Saxon, Executive Director of the Karuk Tribe.

Despite the costs, Representative LaMalfa chose to push for the restoration act saying that, his office saying that "Congress terminated the tribe, so only
Congress can reinstate it."

And that it is "consistent with the other California rancheria restoration language."

Dr. Steven Beckham, a tribal scholar who's been commissioned by the tribe the issues says there is a major difference, there is no evidence a tribe ever lived there.

"When I reviewed the records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the national archives in San Bruno, California, I found virtually nothing to substantiate the record of a relationship between the tribe and the United States," says Beckham.

That worries the Karuk Tribe.

"There are restoration bills that are even in congress now that are legitimate. This one's not legitimate," says Saxon. "And so what it does is it erodes our sovereignty of all tribes, because that's what we rely on, we rely on trust."

Roughly 70 California tribes have called for a re-hearing, but one has not yet been granted.

Mr. Gomes did not respond to KTVL's request for comment.

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