Seized from Criminal, ‘Center of Universe’ is Returned to Indians
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Thanks in part to a criminal who purportedly cultivated marijuana, the Karuk Indians finally are getting back the spiritual center of their universe _ a remote, northwest California clearing.
The four acres above a Klamath River waterfall were seized by the Justice Department after a criminal conviction of the owner. Now the department is giving back the land the government sold out from under the tribe 40 years ago.
The clearing was the site of the ancient Karuk village of Katimin. Karuk Indians use the area for an annual ceremony ``to renew the world and ensure the salmon and acorns come back,″ Alvis Johnson, tribe chairman, said in a telephone interview Tuesday from his office in Happy Camp, Calif.
``We’re very excited,″ he said. ``We got part of our land back.″
Johnson spoke after Attorney General Janet Reno announced an agreement between the Justice and Interior Departments to return the land to the tribe. The Bureau of Indian Affairs will hold it in trust for the Karuk.
The federal government seized the land July 27, 1993, from Bradley Throgmorton, owner of a fishing lodge and cabins built in the 1950s.
In the off-season, Throgmorton cultivated marijuana seedlings for transplanting later in the adjacent Klamath National Forest, according to an affidavit from a Drug Enforcement Administration agent on the federal-state task force that arrested him.
Facing drug and other charges, Throgmorton struck a bargain with prosecutors and pleaded guilty to state weapons charges filed by the Siskiyou County District Attorney.
Because California has no civil forfeiture statute, U.S. prosecutors used the federal forfeiture law and seized the property based on the state conviction.
The U.S. attorney offered the land for sale. Lacking the money to buy the property, the tribe asked the Bureau of Indian Affairs for it under a federal policy that encourages transfer of forfeited property to further the mission of federal agencies.
``I’m very excited about this transfer,″ Reno said. ``Land once used by a criminal who flouted the law will be returned to those native peoples who hold it sacred. This agreement benefits not only the Karuk but all Indian peoples in the Klamath River basin.″
The fishing lodge burned down after the seizure. Johnson said the tribe plans to remove outbuildings and fences and ``restore the land to its original state.″
Johnson said his tribe returned to the site to live and for religious ceremonies year after year _ even after gold miners burned the Indian village in 1852 and other whites burned it again in 1883.
In the 1950s, the Bureau of Indian Affairs sold some Indian land allotments to non-Indians, one of whom built the Somes Bar Lodge, the fishing camp and resort. Johnson said the tribe had to conduct ceremonial dances outside the lodge fence for many years.
The area includes a large hole for the kind of pit house in which the Karuks traditionally lived, several sacred trails and a sweat house, or cedar-plank sauna, used to purify the medicine man before ceremonies, Johnson said. Hundreds of Karuk Indians return annually from throughout California for the summer Brush Dance, a healing ceremony, and for the world renewal dance, usually held in September.