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

White House blocks funding to improve housing for Columbia River treaty tribes

Lawmakers from Oregon and Washington are calling on the Trump administration to honor the federal government's treaty and trust responsibilities after the White House blocked funding for a critical tribal housing project.

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 to the construction of dams along the Columbia River between the 1930s through the 1970s. Although the federal government promised to build replacements, tribal citizens are still living in substandard conditions, with limited electricity and inadequate water supplies.

The situation was looking better when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers earlier this year said it would spend about $3 million to start the process for building a new site. But the Trump administration has since blocked the agency from funding the effort, the lawmakers said.

“We have seen first-hand the cramped, outdated, makeshift housing with limited access to reliable utilities and restrooms that tribal members are living in today,” the lawmakers, all Democrats, wrote in an October 27 letter to the director of the White House Office of Management and Budget. “This is a matter of public health and safety, upholding treaty rights, and requires immediate attention. We strongly urge you to reconsider your decision.”

The Office of Management and Budget did not respond to requests for comments from the Northwest Public Radio and The Associated Press. But one Congressional staffer said the White House doesn't want the Army Corps to be in the housing business, Northwest Public Radio reported.

The $3 million for The Dalles Dam Tribal Housing Village Development Plan was promised by former Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works Jo-Ellen Darcy but she was only able to commit about half of the amount because Congress, at the time, had not passed a budget for the Army Corps. That left the decision on the remaining amount up to the Trump team.

The Army Corps subsequently asked for approval to "reprogram" funds in order to complete work on the the tribal housing project. That request was denied by the White House Office of Management and Budget, the lawmakers said.

Darcy, incidentally, was the official who authorized an environmental impact study for the Dakota Access Pipeline. The Trump administration canceled the study without consulting the tribes who are affected by the $3.8 billion project.

On October 3, President Donald Trump nominated R.D. James to serve as his Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works. James has not yet been confirmed by the Senate.

Read More on the Story:
White House Blocks Money for Tribal Housing on Columbia River (Northwest Public Radio October 31, 2017)
Tribes in Columbia River Gorge hit by White House decision (The Associated Press October 30, 2017)
Tribal housing efforts looming (The Dalles Chronicle October 24, 2017)

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