Tule Lake Committee Files Lawsuit to Stop Transfer of Airport to Modoc Tribe

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Tulelake Airport in Modoc County. (Photo by Martha Nakagawa)

SACRAMENTO — The Tule Lake Committee on Aug. 21 filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California, in Sacramento, seeking a preliminary injunction to stop the City of Tulelake from giving the Tulelake airport to the Modoc Tribe of Oklahoma for the $17,500 cost of Tulelake’s legal fees in the transaction.

The action challenges the decision — giving Tulelake Airport lands that occupy two-thirds of the historic Tule Lake Segregation Center site — by defendant City of Tulelake, through its City Council, to defendant Modoc Tribe of Oklahoma, an entity connected by federal court judgments to repeated criminal frauds and frauds on courts, and an entity in active disregard of state and federal laws.

The Oklahoma group claims that it represents the Modoc Indians killed and removed from the Klamath Basin after the 1872-73 Modoc War. However, Norma Cummings of the Klamath Tribes said that when the Modoc Tribe was created, there was no mention of the tribe having connections to the Tulelake and Klamath basins.

On July 31, the Tulelake City Council unanimously approved the sale of the 358-acre Tulelake Airport to the Modoc tribe of Oklahoma. The sale will become final at the end of 30 days without intervention of the court.

According to the lawsuit, the city’s secretive closed meetings, its non-responses to the committee’s inquiries and offers, its negotiations exclusively with the tribe, its refusal to allow the committee to have an agenda item to discuss its purchase offer, and its ordinance that designated the tribe as the purchaser suggest that the vote on July 31 was a mere formality for an already-made decision.

The City of Tulelake gave the Tule Lake Committee scant notice and no meaningful opportunity to be heard, the plaintiffs allege.

The lawsuit asks the court to ensure that the committee’s concerns about the lack of consideration, due process and transparency are addressed. It also seeks to prevent the airport being given to a tribe that markets and promotes its sovereign immunity as a way to help businesses avoid the “burdens of regulations.”

The Tule Lake Committee, rather than viewing government regulation as something to avoid, believes the historic site has been protected due to requirements to comply with environmental regulations and historic preservation laws. However, at the public hearing on July 31, concern about Tule Lake as a nationally significant human and civil rights historic site was not evident, the committee said.

The city’s lawyer, Michael Colantuono, repeatedly referred to the historic site as “a piece of dirt.” The tribe’s representative, Blake Follis, emphasized the tribe’s priority would be to do “anything to support aviation.” Follis has repeatedly expressed indifference, even hostility toward preserving the Tule Lake site, arguing, “Japanese Americans had it much better than we did.”

According to The Herald and News, comments by Tulelake Basin residents during the public hearing indicated strong resentment against both the Tule Lake Committee and the Klamath Tribes over ongoing lawsuits.

The committee has sued the city and Modoc County over plans to build a fence around the airport, which would break up the historic site. The tribes have filed court actions to shut off water deliveries to Tulelake and Klamath Basin irrigators.

“Our community’s been at war … and we’re sick and tired of it,” said Rudy Hiley.

Barbara Takei of the Tule Lake Committee said that the Tule Lake Unit, which is part of the larger World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument, can serve as a unifying site for several groups. “The histories of Native Americans who resisted removal programs that accommodated white settlers, and the settlers and homesteaders who benefited from government programs — are all part of Tule Lake’s history.”

The hearing date for the latest lawsuit will be announced shortly.

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