Our View: Yurok finally get some good news

April 24, 2007 11:00 pm

The Yurok Tribe received two pieces of good news last week, and it's about time. For too long, California's largest Indian tribe also has been one of the state's poorest. The effect of this on Del Norte County and the surrounding areas that the Yurok reservation overlaps certainly isn't positive; poverty invariably diminishes the opportunities for a community and its people.

The first piece of good news came Thursday when the California State Senate approved a compact that would allow the Yurok to install up to 99 slot machines on its reservation. While that's hardly Vegas, or even the multi-story hotels and thousand-plus machines of Indian tribes in Southern California, it's another enterprise that the tribe has good odds (no pun intended) of seeing a profit from. They currently have no casino.

The second piece of good news came the following day: The Department of the Interior deposited $90 million in the Yurok tribe's bank account. After nearly 20 years of negotiating and court battles, the tribe agreed to waive claims, or arguments of wrongdoing, against the U.S. government. In doing so, the tribe garnered a settlement money. The amount certainly is no slot machine nickel but a sizeable chunk to potentially accomplish a lot of potential good.

But what's here today may be gone tomorrow, and by week's end the tribe very well could receive bad news. First, labor interests in the state Assembly oppose the proposed compact for the slot machines. Secondly, the Hoopa Valley Tribe may tie up the settlement money in court. The tribe disagrees with the amount of settlement money the Yurok should receive and is now considering legal steps. The Hoopa already has asked Congress to intervene.

It'd be a shame if the Yurok had to remain in poverty for years to come because of special interests and more lawsuits. The Yurok's 99 machines aren't the mega Indian resorts that employ thousands, and the tribes and federal government have already spent two decades fighting over the settlement dollars. The best case scenario would be for the slot machine compact to be approved and for the $90 million to stay with the Yurok so the money can begin to be put to good use.