Senate Passes Bill to Improve Conditions
With unanimous support, the U.S. Senate Thursday passed the Columbia River In-Lieu and Treaty Fishing Access Sites Improvement Act that would enable the Bureau of Indian Affairs to make 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 legislation is sponsored by Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Patty Murray (D-WA), Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Maria Cantwell (D-WA).
The next step would be for the U.S. House of Representatives to pass the legislation, before being sent to the President for his signature.
"Today, the Senate made a strong statement that the current conditions at Columbia River fishing sites are unacceptable, unjust, and must be fixed," said Merkley. "I've personally seen the shocking conditions at Lone Pine. We owe better to the Northwest's tribal communities, and the very least we can do is ensure basic sanitation and safety. I'm going to keep pushing until this bill is at the President's desk and signed into law."
"This is a positive step on our long road to properly honor our obligations to the Columbia River Treaty Tribes," said Murray. "It's so important that we continue to make progress to provide safe, sanitary housing and infrastructure at these fishing access sites, so tribal members can exercise their protected rights."
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.
The senators have been working 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.
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, said Merkley in a press release.
Simultaneously, said the Merkley press release, "the Senators 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. The Trump administration's Office of Management and Budget (OMB) recently halted work by the Army Corps on a Village Development Plan specific to The Dalles Dam. The Senators have pushed OMB to reverse its decision. In the meantime, the delay makes improving conditions at existing fishing sites all the more critical."
The Columbia River In-Lieu and Treaty Fishing Access Sites Improvement Act would address the urgent need for improved conditions by:
Trump Administration Should Reverse Disgraceful Tribal Housing Decision by Editorial Board, The Oregonian, 11/5/17
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