The U.S. House of Representatives has passed the Columbia River In-Lieu and Treaty Fishing Access Sites Improvement Act, sending it to the president’s desk to be signed into law.
Oregon’s U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley and Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR-3), along with Senators Patty Murray (D-WA), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR-1), announced passage of the bill on Monday, Dec. 16.
The legislation would enable the Bureau of Indian Affairs to make important safety and sanitation improvements at the tribal treaty fishing access sites along the Columbia River, which are on lands held by the United States for the benefit of the four Columbia River Treaty tribes.
The bill, authored by Merkley and Blumenauer, was unanimously passed by the U.S. Senate on June 28.
“The current conditions at Columbia River fishing sites are unacceptable, unjust, and must be fixed,” Merkley said. “I’ve personally seen the shocking conditions at Lone Pine. We owe better to the tribal communities in the Northwest, and the very least we can do is uphold our commitments to tribes and ensure basic sanitation and safety. I’m pleased that our colleagues in the House of Representatives have joined us in passing this bill, and I urge the president to sign it into law without delay.”
“Congress has a responsibility to address the egregious misdeeds committed against the tribes who have lived along the Columbia River since time immemorial,” Blumenauer said. “We cannot pretend that this bill rectifies all of these injustices, but passing it is an important step in helping improve the lives of those who still reside there. This is just the start, and Congress must continue its work to right these wrongs."
"It is the federal government’s duty to ensure our tribal communities along the river have access to safe, sanitary housing and infrastructure at historical fishing access sites—a critical component of their culture and heritage, as well as an important source of sustenance—and this bill takes another vital step toward fulfilling our government-to-government obligation,” Murry said. “As a representative for our state’s tribes in the Senate, I urge the President to sign this bill into law.”
“Improving the health and safety at tribal fishing sites along the Columbia River is an important and long overdue step toward righting historic wrongs,” Wyden said. “The federal government can’t stop here—it must do more to finally meet all obligations promised to indigenous peoples in the Northwest.”
“Improving housing and infrastructure at Tribal fishing sites is a critical step to fulfill our treaty promises. I hope the president will sign this legislation into law so we can get to work on providing clean and safe living conditions at these sites as soon as possible,” Cantwell said.
Bonamici said she was grateful that the House passed the legislation to address historical injustices and honor the fishing treaty rights of four Columbia River Tribes.
“This bill will finally provide access to safe and sanitary housing and infrastructure at several fishing access sites. For too long the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Indian Reservation, Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, Nez Perce Tribe, and the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation have been without the support that the federal government is legally and morally obligated to provide,” Bonamic said.
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 the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation. These tribes have a treaty-protected right to fish along the Columbia River in their usual and accustomed places.
According to a release from Merkley’s office, The Senators and Representatives 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. In fact, many people at these sites are living in extremely distressed, unsafe, and unsanitary conditions, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs has not committed the resources necessary to ensure the basic necessities of clean and safe living conditions at these sites.
Simultaneously, the Senators and Representatives have been working to address unmet federal obligations to the four Columbia River Treaty Tribes, many of whom are living at these fishing sites, for flooding tribal communities and houses during the construction of The Dalles, Bonneville, and John Day dams.
In 2017, after the Trump administration’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) halted work by the Army Corps on a Village Development Plan specific to The Dalles Dam, the members successfully pushed OMB to reverse its decision, and later announced that the Army Corps allocated $1.8 million to complete The Dalles Dam Tribal Housing Village Development Plan.
In the 2019 spending bill, Merkley successfully included language acknowledging the Army Corps’ mission, and instructing the Corps to uphold its responsibility to tribes that were displaced by the construction of The Dalles Dam on the Columbia River, and to mitigate the impact of that displacement.
The Columbia River In-Lieu and Treaty Fishing Access Sites Improvement Act would address the urgent need for improved conditions by:
• Calling on the Bureau of Indian Affairs to conduct a much-needed assessment of current safety and sanitation conditions at the sites, in coordination with the affected Columbia River Treaty Tribes; and Authorizing the Bureau to work on improving sanitation and safety conditions in several key areas such as structural improvements (restrooms, washrooms, and other buildings); safety improvements (wells and infrastructure to address fire concerns, and more); electrical infrastructure to ensure safe electrical hookups; and basic sewer and septic infrastructure.
The legislation is supported by 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 the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation—as well as the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission.