Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Polk County Itemizer-Observer

Congresswoman Andrea Salinas (OR-06) introduced her first piece of legislation March 22, which amends the Grand Ronde Reservation Act to restore the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde’s right to pursue land claims and compensation. The bill is co-led by Senator Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), and cosponsored by U.S. Representatives Suzanne Bonamici (OR-01), Earl Blumenauer (OR-03), Val Hoyle (OR-04), and Lori Chavez-DeRemer (OR-05), as well as U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).

Salinas and Merkley’s bill to fix the Grand Ronde Reservation Act would correct a drafting error in a 1994 legislative amendment to the Grand Ronde Reservation Act, which authorized a land exchange requiring the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to compensate the Grand Ronde Tribe for an 84-acre survey error by the federal government. The survey error occurred around 1871 and was not discovered by the Bureau of Land Management until 1988. In 1994, in pursuing federal legislation to rectify the error, an amendment was made to the bill at the time that further prohibited the Tribe from making any additional land claims if new errors were ever discovered. Salinas and Merkley’s bill will end this inequitable restriction on the Tribe so that they may pursue recourse if additional survey errors are found. Currently, no other tribe in the State of Oregon is bound by this type of legal restriction and removing it will restore equity to the Grand Ronde Tribe. In case additional survey errors are discovered, this bill to amend the Grand Ronde Reservation Act would replace the phrase “lands within the State of Oregon” with the phrase “the 84 acres known as the Thompson Strip,” clarifying that they are only prohibited from making additional land claims to the area known as the Thompson Strip.

“The Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde Community were the original stewards of Oregon’s land and natural resources – and, like so many other Indigenous peoples, they have faced tremendous injustices at the hands of the federal government,” said Salinas. “I’ve always believed that while we are not responsible for the ills of the past, we are responsible for remedying them today. My amendment to the Grand Ronde Reservation Act aligns with that important pursuit and I thank Senator Merkley, as well as the many partners and stakeholders who contributed to this process.”

Merkley said it was wrong that the federal government compounded its original surveying error with another that relinquished the Tribe’s rights to future land claims and compensation.

“This legislation I’ve been championing for years is a critical step forward in the Grand Ronde’s fight to restore its right to pursue land claims in Oregon—rights already available to other federally-recognized tribes in Oregon,” Merkley said. “I am encouraged by the increased bipartisan support in Congress for this effort and hopeful that it will give us the momentum needed to finally correct this historic injustice for the Grand Ronde.”

Wyden added the proposed legislation is a long-overdue fix to take a key step on the journey to justice for the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde.

“Tribal communities should be able to count on the federal government for fair treatment. And this bill would live up to that goal by restoring the actual land exchange terms the Grand Ronde agreed to in good faith while also protecting their rights going forward,” Wyden said.

Tribal Council Chairwoman Cheryle Kennedy thanked Salinas for making this issue her first legislative priority.

“Not only did the United States make errors surveying Grand Ronde lands, but it then took away Grand Ronde’s ability to be compensated for the errors. That’s not right. It’s great to know our representatives understand the problem and are ready to help correct this injustice,” Kennedy said.