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Congress to help tribes rebuild

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Several U.S. Senators from the Northwest — Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., announced last week that provisions to help fulfill long-unmet housing obligations to tribes along the Columbia River have passed both the House and Senate.

The legislation moved forward as part of the Water Resources Development Act of 2016. The bill will now be sent to President Obama’s desk to be signed into law.

Specifically, the provisions that passed the Congress will help fulfill unmet housing obligations by authorizing the Corps to provide relocation assistance to Native families displaced by the construction of Bonneville Dam; and authorizing the Corps to conduct a study of families displaced by the construction of John Day Dam and make recommendations to Congress with a plan to address unmet obligations for relocation assistance.

Beginning in the 1930s, the construction of the three lower Columbia River dams displaced members of four Columbia River Treaty tribes: Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs; Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla; Nez Perce and Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Indian Nation.

These tribes have a treaty-protected right to fish along the Columbia River in their usual and accustomed places.

Northwest senators and congressmen have been fighting to address the need for adequate housing and infrastructure at tribal fishing access sites constructed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers following construction of The Dalles, Bonneville, and John Day dams.

The 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 review on tribal housing prepared by the 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.”

Murray added: “This is an incredibly important step toward repairing decades of injustice in the Pacific Northwest, but our work does not end here.

“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.”

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