The post office and banks in the Hoopa Valley were inundated today as Hoopa Valley tribal members lined up to get their mail and then deposit their fresh-cut $10,000 checks. Outside the post office, the Hoopa Tribal Police posted a guard to keep things orderly.
The checks are part of a $49.2 million settlement reached this April between the Hoopa Valley Tribe and the United States. The tribe is one of 41 tribes who sued the federal government in 2006, accusing the Department of the Interior and the Department of the Treasury of mismanaging natural resources and revenues, in some cases going back as far as 100 years. Ryan Jackson, a tribal council member, says the Hoopa Valley Tribe claimed mismanagement of its timber and timber sales revenues going back to 1931.
"It wasn't sold for an amount that was fair market value, at times," Jackson said. "Revenues were not invested properly, and in some cases revenues were stolen."
The total settlement among all of the suing tribes was $1 billion.
The Hoopa Valley Tribe's been divided on how to divvy up its $49.2 million portion. Some wanted it distributed equally among members. Others wanted some of it invested in tribal programs, especially for youth and elders, and the rest of it distributed equally among members. Those who wanted it all distributed circulated a petition and gained more than 50 percent of the voting membership in signatures. On Nov. 15, the tribal council voted 6-1 against full distribution and to distribute 65 percent ($32 million) of the settlement to its members. Jackson was the dissenting vote.
"We had a petition signed by more than 50 percent of the voting members for full distribution, and I took that as a clear sign of the will of the people," he said.
In a guest editorial in the local newspaper in September, the Two Rivers Tribune, the tribe's vice chairman, Byron Nelson, Jr., complained that some tribal members were "willing to discard tribalism for individual gain for less money than the price of a new car."
"This settlement money will be the last windfall the tribe will see in a great while," he wrote. "With the drastic decline in the value of our timber and the expected cutbacks in federal funding, tough times are surely ahead. Now is the time to shore up programs that support the most vulnerable."
Jackson said the tribe will hold a special election on Jan. 3 to determine the fate of the remaining 35 percent of the settlement: whether to divvy it, too, equally among tribal members, or to invest it in tribal programs.
Last Friday, the tribe cut the checks of $10,000 apiece to its 3,100 members. It mailed 2,217 of those checks to the adult members of the tribe, and today the checks arrived in their mailboxes. The rest -- the portion going to underage members -- will be deposited in an account set aside for minors, from which they receive a distribution when they reach adulthood.
And how do people plan to spend their ten thousand bucks?
"I think most people are going to pay bills," Jackson said. "I'll probably pay some of my bills. Or I'll save it or make improvements to my home."
It's possible local car dealers are hoping to hone in on some of the bounty, as well. Jackson said he'd noticed more car ads than usual, lately, in the tribal newspaper.