The Spokane Tribe, also known as the Children of the Sun, will be celebrating long-overdue compensation for the loss of its lands in Washington state.
After nearly 80 years of work, the tribe secured final passage of S.216,
the Spokane Tribe of Indians of the Spokane Reservation Equitable Compensation Act, in December. The new law, which enjoyed bipartisan support, compensates the Children of the Sun for lands, homes and sacred sites that were flooded by the creation of the Grand Coulee Dam in the 1930s and 1940s.
“The Spokane Tribe of Indians has waited for almost 80 years to receive just and equitable compensation for the land, life, and culture they lost when the Grand Coulee Dam was constructed," said Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Washington), the sponsor of S.216. "This corrects a flawed adjudication process that left the Spokane out."
“The construction of the Grand Coulee Dam positively transformed our region in countless ways, but it also fundamentally changed the Spokane Tribe’s way of life,” said Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Washington), who sponsored the companion version of the new law. “This is long overdue, and I’m happy we are finally moving forward to get the Spokane Tribe the compensation they deserve and right this historical wrong.”
Cantwell and McMorris Rodgers are heading to the Spokane Reservation on Thursday to help celebrate. They will be welcomed by Chairwoman Carol Evans and other tribal leaders and citizens at the powwow grounds in Wellpinit.
"A special honoring during the ceremony will focus on the ancestors of the Spokane Tribe, whose homes, land and sacred ceremonial sites were flooded by the Grand Coulee Dam waters," an announcement from the tribe read.
"The Spokane Tribe of Indians will take this opportunity to recognize the hard work of all who helped gain final passage of S.216," it continued.
Under S.216, the tribe will receive a percentage of existing revenues generated by the Grand Coulee Dam and other hydroelectric projects in the Northwest. The package means the compensation does not come at an additional cost to taxpayers.
"The Grand Coulee Dam and the energy it produces has been a financial boon to the United States and the citizens of the Northwest," Rep. Deb Haaland (D-New Mexico), who is one of the first
two Native women in Congress, said during debate on S.216 on December 16.
"It is now time to make whole the Spokane Tribe for their sacrifice."
The tribe's long-running efforts unwittingly gained attention from an unusual source later in the month. On December 27, President Donald Trump said it was his "honor" to have signed S.216 into law.
"Thank YOU Indian Country for being such an IMPORTANT part of the American story!" Trump wrote in a thread on social media.
Trump described S.216 as a measure that supports "tribal sovereignty" in his first comments about Indian Country's legislative priorities in nearly three years in office.
Despite the gap in attention, a federal government employee who works at the White House said the posts demonstrated the president's "support" for tribal issues.
"This was one of the proudest moments I've had since I began at the White House,"
said Tyler Fish, a citizen of the
Cherokee Nation whose title is
policy advisor and tribal liaison within the executive office of the president, said last Tuesday at the National Congress of American Indians winter session in Washington, D.C. Officially, Fish is employed by the Department of the Interior and is working on a detail to the White House.
Thursday's ceremony on the Spokane Reservation is open to the public.