By Hilary Corrigan
Triplicate staff writer
The Hoopa Valley Tribe has appealed a U.S. Department of the Interior decision that would grant an entire trust fund of about $90 million to the Yurok Tribe.
The ruling early this month directs the remaining money from the 1988 Hoopa-Yurok Settlement Act that partitioned the two tribes' reservations. The act also set up a fund with more than $56 million in timber money that the U.S. government made from the lands, plus another $10 million in federal money. That fund's total has grown during the nearly two decades of legal disputes.
The decision came after the Yurok Tribe recently agreed to waive property right claims against the U.S. government. The ruling stated that the tribe could still meet the act's requirements and receive the funds by waiving claims.
But the tribe already had rejected that condition of the settlement act and cannot legally receive the money by complying now, said Hoopa Valley Tribe attorney Rob Roy Smith of Morisset, Schlosser, Jozwiak & McGaw out of Seattle, Wash.
On Thursday, the Hoopa Valley Tribe filed an appeal to the department's interior board of Indian appeals. Smith could not estimate a timeline on the process, but aims to resolve the issue within a year.
"We're beginning the process," agreed Hoopa Valley Tribal Chairman Howard Lyle Marshall.
Soon after the 1988 settlement act, the Hoopa Valley Tribe had waived claims and received more than $31 million by 1991. The Yurok Tribe did not.
"They're waiving something that no longer exists," Marshall said, calling the department's decision illegal and arbitrary. "That's what makes it so crazy."
And the settlement act did not break down shares, but instead set aside revenues from the reservation's resources, Marshall said.
"Both tribes have rights to the fund," he said, adding that the department lacks the authority to direct the money. "Congress created the fund and Congress has to decide what to do with it."
Yurok Tribal Council Chairwoman Maria Tripp had celebrated the department's decision earlier this month, saying that the monumental step would boost the tribe's economy and improve the lives of its approximately 5,000 members. Tripp could not be reached for comment on the Hoopa Valley Tribe's appeal.
"I wish the Hoopas and Yuroks could sit down and reach an agreement," Marshall said. "At some point in time, that's where the tribes need to be Â—at a negotiating table."