Appropriations measure aims to address housing for treaty tribes

The Lone Pine In-lieu Site is one of 31 sites along the Columbia River where tribal members endure substandard living conditions. Photo from Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission

Help might finally be on the way for four treaty tribes whose members are forced to endure substandard living conditions along the Columbia River.

The Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs Reservation, the Nez Perce Tribe, and the Yakama Nation lost prime fishing, gathering and housing sites due to the construction of dams along the river from the 1930s through the 1970s. Although the federal government promised to build replacements, tribal members are still living in shoddy housing, with limited electricity and inadequate water supplies.

The fiscal year 2017 Energy and Water Development Appropriations Bill aims to improve those conditions. A provision presses the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to complete plans for a new tribal village at The Dalles Dam.

“After seeing firsthand the living conditions at these sites, I am even more committed to righting this wrong for tribal members,” Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon) said in a press release. “No one should have to live in these conditions and it’s past time this debt was repaid.”

“I believe it is critical for there to be safe, reliable housing along the Columbia River so treaty tribes can exercise their protected rights,” added Sen. Patty Murray (D-Washington). “That's why I am fighting alongside my colleagues in Congress to tell the story of this need. Salmon fishing is an integral part of the Native American legacy, and this is an important step to honoring those histories.”

Along with Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Oregon), Merkley visited the Columbia River late last month to learn more about the difficult conditions. The Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission showed the lawmakers and their staffs around four sites, including one near The Dalles.

"The tribes continue to insist that as long as the dams exist, the United States has a continuing obligation for the impacts caused by the dams, including the loss of villages and homes along the river," the commission said on its blog.

The Senate Appropriations Committee approved the Energy and Water Development Appropriations Bill on Thursday. The $37.5 billion package can now be considered on the Senate floor.

“The funding in this bill is important for American security, both domestically and internationally. It will support our nuclear security, promote energy innovation and continue to advance commerce and public safety with water infrastructure funding,” Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Mississippi), the chairman of the committee, said in a press release.

The House Appropriations Committee released its version of the bill on Tuesday and approved it at a markup on Wednesday. The draft package did not contain the same language regarding the Columbia River tribes but any differences can be resolved later in the legislative process.

Leaders in the Senate and the House are vowing to complete work on appropriations bills on schedule this year rather than wait until the end of the session. For the last several years, Congress has had to pass massive "omnibus" packages to prevent the federal government from shutting down.

The provision in the Senate bill follows:
The Committee is aware of a Corps of Engineers legal analysis which finds that a new tribal village can be constructed pursuant to section 204 of the Flood Control Act authorizing construction of The Dalles Dam. The Corps of Engineers is encouraged to complete a development plan for a new tribal village at The Dalles Dam in consultation with affected Columbia River tribes and the Bureau of Indian Affairs

Related Stories
Opinion: Treaty tribes deserve better housing on Columbia River (4/11)
Army Corps fails to complete housing for Northwest treaty tribes (03/15)

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