The Modoc Nation, formerly the Modoc Tribe of Oklahoma, remains involved in multiple issues in the Tulelake Basin, such as legal disputes over its controversial purchase of the Tulelake Municipal Airport, opposing proposals to have Lava Beds National Monument receive national park status, and the disenrollment of Cheewa James and 15 of her family members.
It’s unknown if the departure of William “Blake” Follis, the grandson of long-time Bill Follis who had been the Tribe’s attorney general and its main spokesman, will impact those and other disputes.
The Tribe, which is based in Miami, Oklahoma, and now owns land near the Lava Beds, is facing legal challenges by the Tule Lake Committee, which seeks to overturn the 2018 sale of the airport to the Tribe by the city of Tulelake.
In 2019, Modoc’s tribal council voted to disenroll Cheewa James, a noted Modoc historian, and 15 family members from tribal membership. James, who is well known in Oregon and California as a Modoc descendant, speaker and author and narrated a Lava Beds driving tour, says the disenrollment stems from her questioning tribal business policies involving Blake Follis.
Late last year it was announced that Follis is no longer affiliated with the Tribe “due to different business philosophies,” according to the Tribe’s newsletter. It was also learned that Follis has been named in a $3.15 million lawsuit by a company that formerly worked with tribal businesses. Previously, the Tribe, which uses its federally permitted tribal sovereignty in sometimes controversial business dealings, paid more than $4 million in fines for a criminal payday loan scheme.
The Modoc Nation, which reportedly has fewer than 300 members scattered throughout many states, is a federally recognized tribe based in Oklahoma, where Modoc Natives were sent following the 1872-73 Modoc War. In October 1873, 153 Modoc men, women and children were sent by train in cattle cars under the surveillance of armed Army soldiers, eventually to the Quapaw Indian Agency in Indian Territory, which is now Oklahoma. In 1909 the U.S. government allowed Modocs to return to the Klamath Basin, which many people did. Those that remained in Oklahoma eventually became part of the Modoc Tribe of Oklahoma. The Tribe was terminated in the 1950s but regained federal recognition in 1978.
Since then, the Tribe has established Red Cedar Recycling, the Stables Casino, reintroduced bison and been involved in several economic projects, including, according to the Tribe’s website, “businesses specializing in information technology, construction, aviation, gaming, payment solution and health care management.”
In 2018, the Modoc Tribe of Oklahoma – it renamed itself the Modoc Nation in 2019 – was one of two tribes that in court proceedings admitted it had allowed Scott Tucker, who was fined and sentenced to more than 16 years in prison, to use the Tribe to skirt state usury laws for an illegal $2 billion payday loan scheme. According to court documents, proceeds were laundered through bank accounts in the Tribe’s name that were controlled by Tucker. The Tribe reportedly forfeited more than $4 million in settlements. A documentary about the payday loan scheme was featured on episode two of “Dirty Money” on Netflix.
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