Merkley, Wyden, Walden, DeFazio Announces Congressional Passage of Legislation to Return Tribal Control Over Their Private Lands

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Oregon’s U.S. Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden, with Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR 2) and Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR 4) today announced that Congress has passed the Oregon Tribal Economic Development Act, which allows certain tribes in Oregon to lease and sell property that they own.

“It’s absurd that tribes were forced to get Congressional approval before they could develop property that they privately own,” Merkley said. “Several Oregon tribes asked me for help on this issue as they encountered barriers to development projects, and I could not be more pleased to see it heading to the president’s desk to be signed into law. This legislation is critically important to tribal sovereignty and economic growth, allowing tribes to take ownership over development opportunities on their reservations.”

“Tribes in Oregon should have the authority to set their own economic course, and an essential piece of that decision-making must be the flexibility to develop their privately owned property,” Wyden said. “I am gratified that common sense and fairness have prevailed so that tribes throughout our state can choose to pursue development opportunities that create jobs and revenues.” 

“Passage of this measure will help improve the lives of Oregon tribal members by giving them new opportunities to manage their lands without unnecessary federal red tape,” Walden said. “I look forward to President Trump signing this bipartisan measure into law.”

“Throughout our nation’s history, our terrible federal Indian policy has decimated tribes not only through displacement, but through economic discrimination as well,” DeFazio said. “In Southwest Oregon, the INIA made it impossible for the Confederated Tribes of Coos, Lower Umpqua, and Siuslaw Indians in my district to fully function as a sovereign nation, acting as a roadblock to the tribe’s economic development. I’m proud to help right a historic wrong by exempting the Coos from its unnecessary restrictions.”

Currently, under the Indian Non-Intercourse Act, tribes are required to get federal approval to purchase, sell, convey, warrant, or lease lands they own privately. This makes it difficult, expensive, and impractical for tribes to seize economic development opportunities, when they must get approval from Congress every time they want to obtain a commercial mortgage for their non-trust property.

The Oregon Tribal Economic Development Act allows certain tribes in Oregon to forego that additional approval on privately held lands. The bill does not affect property that is held in trust by the United States, which means the federal government holds the legal title to the land in trust on behalf of a tribe, and tribal government manages the land for the communal benefit of the tribe. Merkley and Wyden led the Act in the U.S. Senate, and Walden and DeFazio led a companion bill in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The tribes in Oregon impacted by this bill include the Confederated Tribes of Coos, Lower Umpqua, and Siuslaw Indians; Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde Community of Oregon; Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians of Oregon; Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs; and the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians.

“We give great thanks to Senator Merkley, Senator Wyden, Rep. DeFazio, and Rep. Walden for their hard work to secure the passage of S. 1285, the Oregon Tribal Economic Development Act,” said Chief Warren Brainard of the Confederated Tribes of Coos, Lower Umpqua, and Siuslaw Indians. “This bill advances the potential for economic development for Tribes in Oregon by strengthening our self-sufficiency and self-determination and ensuring the equality of Tribes to buy and sell fee lands like other Americans. It is a great day for Tribes in Oregon.”

“Economic development and investment is vital to improving the lives of our tribal members,” said Cheryle Kennedy, Chair of The Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde. “This bill removes a significant barrier to the Tribe leasing and developing fee land. The Tribe is grateful for Sen. Merkley’s leadership on this issue and his role in passing the legislation.”

The next step for the legislation is to be signed into law by the president.