Opinion: Treaty tribes deserve better housing on Columbia River

The Columbia River treaty tribes dedicated the Dallesport Treaty Fishing Access Site on April 25, 2012. Photo from Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Oregon) and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon) call on Congress to address the "shameful" housing conditions faced by members of the four tribes with treaty rights on the Columbia River:
Western development, including the construction of the Columbia River dams beginning in the 1930s, severely and negatively impacted the vibrant cultures of tribes and bands now known as the Nez Perce, Umatilla, Warm Springs and Yakama Nation. In just a few decades, as villages and traditional fishing sites were flooded, a huge part of the culture and identity of the tribes was lost forever.

It has been devastating for these communities, which were never fully compensated for their losses. Today, many tribal members live at 31 small sites along their beloved Columbia in makeshift housing without proper electricity, sewers or water. They're living in severe poverty — ironically next to the massive, expensive and profitable dams that forever changed the lives of their people.

These 31 sites were constructed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to provide the tribes treaty-protected river access to fish, compensating in small part for the access lost through the construction of the dams. The Corps designed the sites, now owned by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), to be used primarily for daily, in-season fishing access and temporary camping.

Out of both a need for housing that was never replaced and a desire to be closer to the river where they have always lived, many tribal members now use these areas as longer-term, even permanent residences.

We've visited some of these sites. The conditions we've seen firsthand are deeply distressing and unsafe, with entire communities living in makeshift housing, reliant on limited water sources and often without electricity.

No one should live like this.

Get the Story:
Rep. Earl Blumenauer and Sen. Jeff Merkley: Congress must address tribal housing crisis on the Columbia River (The Oregonian 4/10)

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