WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Patty Murray (D-WA) and Ron Wyden (D-OR), as well as Congressman Earl Blumenauer (OR-3), announced that provisions to help fulfill long-unmet housing obligations to tribes along the Columbia River have passed both the House and Senate as part of the Water Resources Development Act of 2016 (WRDA), now the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act. The bill will now be sent to the President’s desk to be signed into law.
Beginning in the 1930s, the construction of the three lower Columbia River dams displaced members of the four Columbia River Treaty tribes: Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Indian Reservation, Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, Nez Perce Tribe, and Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Indian Nation of the Yakama Reservation. These Tribes have a treaty-protected right to fish along the Columbia River in their usual and accustomed places. The Senators and Congressman have been fighting to address the urgent need for adequate housing and infrastructure at tribal fishing access sites constructed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Army Corps) following construction of The Dalles, Bonneville, and John Day dams. The Army Corps designed the sites to be used primarily for daily, in-season fishing access and temporary camping; however, in many cases tribal members now use the areas as longer-term or even permanent residences. A Fact-Finding Review on Tribal Housing prepared by the Army Corps found that as many as 85 tribal families who lived on the banks of the Columbia River prior to construction of the Bonneville and The Dalles dams did not receive relocation assistance, despite the fact that several non-tribal communities inundated by dam construction did receive such assistance.
“Leaving our tribes displaced without safe, reliable housing is simply wrong,” said Merkley. “Ever since the construction of the Columbia River unjustly displaced these tribes starting over 75 years ago, the federal government has owed it to them to provide the housing and infrastructure that was promised. These provisions bring us one step closer to making good on our commitments.”
“This is an incredibly important step toward repairing decades of injustice in the Pacific Northwest, but our work does not end here,” said Murray. “In the coming months and years, we must continue the fight to ensure our country honors its promise to respect tribal treaty rights and uphold this region’s rich legacy of salmon fishing.”
“Today, the Congress has made real progress toward starting to repair a long and painful history of injustice against Native American communities and their families,” Wyden said. “It is only right to protect children and families from serious health and safety hazards along the Columbia River by providing safe and permanent housing for tribal communities that have been displaced.”
“I’m proud we’re on our way to righting this wrong,” said Blumenauer. “We will not stop fighting until the federal government meets its basic responsibilities to improve the conditions of these sites and deal with unmet tribal housing needs.”
Specifically, the provisions that passed the Congress as part of WRDA today will help fulfill unmet housing obligations by:
· Authorizing the Army Corps to provide relocation assistance to Native families displaced by the construction of Bonneville Dam; and
· Authorizing the Army Corps to conduct a study of Native families displaced by the construction of John Day Dam and make recommendations to Congress with a plan to address unmet obligations for relocation assistance.