Merkley And Murray Announce Key Appropriations Win To Address Tribal Housing Needs In The Columbia Gorge

Portland, OR – U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Patty Murray of Washington announced today that the U.S. Senate is pressing the U.S. Army of Corps of Engineers (Army Corps) to move forward with construction of new tribal housing at historical fishing sites to replace villages that were flooded during the creation of the Columbia River dams.

Included in the Senate Fiscal Year 2017 Energy and Water Development Appropriations report is language urging the Army Corps to use the funding provided in the bill to develop a plan for the construction of a new tribal village at The Dalles Dam. The bill and its accompanying report passed the full Senate Appropriations Committee today.

“After seeing firsthand the living conditions at these sites, I am even more committed to righting this wrong for tribal members,” said Senator Merkley. “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,” said Senator Murray. “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.”

Senators Merkley and Murray, along with Congressman Earl Blumenauer and colleagues in both the Senate and House and the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, have been fighting to address the urgent need for adequate housing and infrastructure at tribal fishing access sites constructed by the Army Corps after the 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 relocating several non-tribal communities inundated by dam construction.

Today the full United States Senate Appropriations Committee passed the FY 2017 Energy and Water Appropriations bill.  Within that legislation is language supporting immediate actions to alleviate the tribal housing crisis along the Columbia River. Our tribes are deeply appreciative of Senators Merkley and Murray’s success in securing bi-partisan support among their colleagues for a Columbia River tribal housing initiative. Today’s passage of the FY 2017 Energy and Water Appropriations bill can put in motion actions to fulfill the decades-long obligation of the federal government to replace the lost housing and livelihoods of tribal families displaced along the Columbia River. The time has come to right this historic wrong,” said Paul Lumley, Executive Director of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission.

The language included in today’s Fiscal Year 2017 Energy and Water Development Appropriations report is below: 

“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.”

The bill was voted out of committee today on a bipartisan vote. The next steps would be for the bill to be sent to the Senate floor for a full Senate vote, and eventually to be merged with a counterpart bill from the U.S. House of Representatives in order to be passed by both houses and signed into law.