Broken government promises leave four tribes waiting for better housing
All StoriesNorthwest senators took the first step Thursday to fulfilling the promises made to Columbia River fishing tribes in the 1930s.
Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon, and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Washington, added language into an appropriations bill that allows the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to start planning a new tribal village at The Dalles Dam. The Army Corps recognized in 2013 that the agency never replaced the homes for at least hundreds of Warm Springs, Yakama, Umatilla and Nez Perce tribal members who lived along the Columbia River after The Dalles, Bonneville and John Day dams were built.
Last month, The Oregonian/Oregonlive exposed the decrepit conditions at 31 fishing sites where tribal members now live to continue catching salmon — a 10,000-year-old practice that hold economic, social and spiritual importance to the four tribes. Fishing crews now live without electricity or access to sufficient clean water, and deal with rampant fire, safety and health hazards.
“This represents the first concrete action to address the responsibility of the United States for replacing the tribal villages that were flooded, since the construction of Celilo,” Merkley said.
The tribes, speaking through the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, are glad that the federal government is finally moving on the problem.
“The time has come to right this historic wrong,” said Paul Lumley, executive director for the fish commission.
They want the Army Corps to start talking with the four tribes and the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs immediately to plan a new village. To do this, first, the senators point to the Army Corps’ own words written at the time of the The Dalles Dam construction. Corps officials said they have the ability to build a new tribal village to replace ones that were flooded. This likely paved the way for Celilo at the time.