WASHINGTON, D.C. – (RealEstateRama) — U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Patty Murray (D-WA), Ron Wyden (D-OR), and Maria Cantwell (D-WA) announced that provisions to help fulfill long-unmet housing obligations to tribes along the Columbia River have passed the full U.S. Senate as part of the Water Resources Development Act of 2016 (WRDA).
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 have been fighting to address the urgent need for adequate housing and infrastructure at tribal fishing access sites constructed by the 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 relocating several non-tribal communities inundated by dam construction.
“It’s totally unacceptable that decades after the federal government’s dams wiped out our tribes’ communities and fishing sites with thousands of years of history, we still have not honored our obligations to tribal members along the Columbia River,” said Merkley. “We need to keep our promises for relocation and housing for the communities that were displaced. I’ll keep pushing to get these provisions to the President’s desk and signed into law.”
“This is a strong step forward to honor our promise to respect treaty rights and restore tribal housing,” said Senator Murray. “Salmon fishing is an integral part of the Native American legacy, and we must support that tradition with the necessary critical infrastructure and housing for tribes affected by dam construction. I’m proud to have reached this milestone, and I will keep working with my colleagues in the House to get this done.”
“Providing access to safe, reliable housing for displaced Native American families in Oregon is about as important as it gets,” Wyden said. “This is a start to repairing a history of injustice and protecting children and families from serious health and safety hazards along the Columbia River.”
“A consequence of our hydroelectric system was that many tribal fishing communities were displaced,” Cantwell said. “This WRDA provision authorizes the Army Corps to provide relocation assistance for these displaced Tribal families.”
Specifically, the provisions that passed the Senate 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 John Day Dam to determine if there is an unmet obligation for relocation assistance.