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Commentaries and editorials

Trump Administration Should Reverse
Disgraceful Tribal Housing Decision

by Editorial Board
The Oregonian, November 5, 2017

In this Aug. 22 photo at Lone Pine, resident Ranetta Spino, left, sits in front of the trailer home she shares with her relatives at the Native American fishing site on the Columbia River near The Dalles, (AP Photo/Gosia Wozniacka) The American government owes the Columbia River tribes at least 85 homes to replace those lost when three dams were built decades ago and flooded out their fishing villages.

As recently as 2016, the federal government finally acknowledged that responsibility to the Warm Springs, Yakama, Umatilla and Nez Perce tribes.

And yet despite our shameful history of making and breaking promises to Native Americans, the Trump administration recently decided against providing the Army Corps of Engineers with the $1.6 million requested to finish planning for the much-needed homes near The Dalles, as reported by The Oregonian/OregonLive's Molly Harbarger.

It was a disgraceful decision that amounts to a double double-cross.

The move by Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney came as a surprise to congressional leaders from Oregon and Washington. They've pushed the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to replace the lost tribal housing since Harbarger's 2016 investigation into the deplorable and dangerous conditions at tribal camps along the river.

Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley and Rep. Earl Blumenauer, both Democrats, toured a few of the 31 camps, where hundreds of tribal members live without safe shelter, utilities or restrooms. Merkley, Blumenauer and Washington Sen. Patty Murray pushed successful bills last year to provide $3 million to create plans for housing near The Dalles Dam.

Half was spent, but the remainder is needed to complete the work that the Corps has indefinitely put on hold since the budget office decision. The move frustrated tribal leaders and members who've waited so long and had warily followed the continued progress of the plan - even as Trump questioned the legality of other tribal housing programs in his early days in office.

Merkley told The Oregonian/OregonLive Editorial Board last week that he wasn't given a heads-up on the budget office decision as is typically the case when an administration holds back funding for such a well-championed project. Instead, he said, his staff was informed of the reversal in a run-of-the-mill briefing.

At this point, Merkley and others have only heard that Mulvaney believes the Army Corps has too many other projects to address to commit time on housing issues.

That claim is not only offensive, it's off-base.

The Army Corps regularly takes on housing issues, including as recently as September when its engineers helped plan and deliver temporary housing for Texans affected by Hurricane Harvey. But the Corps doesn't just jump in to help in disaster situations. According to its own website, the Corps in recent years has built nearly 50 child care centers, about 38,000 permanent barracks and 1,200 family housing units.

Most notably, the Corps jumped on projects decades ago to rebuild housing for the people who lost their homes in the predominately white towns flooded out by the Bonneville and John Day dams. That included about $35 million spent to recreate the town of North Bonneville, including replacing streets, a sewage system and electrical connections.

This isn't a question of capacity or know-how. This project - an infinitesimal slice of the Corps' proposed $5.5 billion civil works budget -- is about the government finally holding up its end of a bargain that's been delayed for far too long.

Merkley and the others aim to meet with Mulvaney in the coming weeks and appeal for the funding needed to replace the homes that the federal government destroyed. Truly, it's hard to comprehend that the government could once again step away from an agreement with Native Americans and compromise the health and well-being of Columbia River tribes.

But here we are.

The Army Corps' stated vision is to create "engineering solutions for our nation's toughest challenges." The Trump administration should get out of the Corps' way and let them.

Related Pages:
Army Corps Should Keep Its Promises to Native Communities by Editorial Board, Idaho Mountain Express, 6/10/16
Empty Promises to Displaced Tribal Fishermen by Roberta Ulrich, The Oregonian, 11/15/14

Editorial Board
Trump Administration Should Reverse Disgraceful Tribal Housing Decision
The Oregonian, November 5, 2017

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