Jeff Merkley

03/21/2017 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 03/21/2017 12:06

Northwestern Members of Congress Reintroduce Bill to Improve Safety and Sanitation at Columbia River Tribal Fishing Sites

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Washington, D.C. - Today, U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Patty Murray (D-WA), and Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and U.S. Representatives Earl Blumenauer (D-OR-03) and Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR-01) reintroduced the Columbia River In-Lieu and Treaty Fishing Access Sites Improvement Act, bicameral legislation to 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.

'It is long past time that we honor our commitment to tribal members along the Columbia River, and this legislation is another step in the right direction,' said Merkley. 'Tribal members shouldn't have to live in unsafe or unsanitary conditions without running water or electricity. This bill will help make much needed improvements at the 31 tribal fishing sites along the Columbia River.'

'We are back at it again, fighting for common-sense improvements to conditions at these sites,' said Blumenauer. 'This legislation should be a no-brainer: it calls for basic upgrades to make these important areas hospitable for tribal members to exercise their treaty rights to fish. We will keep working to make sure these needs are addressed and Congress makes good on the government's promises.'

'This legislation makes a much-needed step toward reversing a long-time injustice for tribal members who have unfairly endured deplorable living conditions and deteriorating conditions at traditional fishing sites for decades,' Wyden said. 'Fixing these deeply troubling public health and safety hazards for children and families must be urgent business to begin a new chapter of equitable treatment for tribes.'

'Conditions at many treaty fishing access sites along the Columbia River are highly unsafe and unsanitary,' said Murray. 'It's so important we keep working to honor treaties signed with Columbia River Treaty Tribes and quickly provide safe, sanitary housing and related infrastructure to the four tribes, so that they can exercise their protected rights such as salmon fishing, an integral part of the Native American culture.'

'The mighty Columbia River is a critical part of the Pacific Northwest and a highway and habitat to salmon,' said Bonamici. 'But to the tribes of the Pacific Northwest, the river is much more: there is a spiritual connection over centuries throughout history. I am proud to join with my colleagues in seeking justice and improving housing conditions for the four tribes that have endured decades of broken promises from the federal government.'

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 Members 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.

The Columbia River In-Lieu and Treaty Fishing Access Sites Improvement Act will 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

· Directing 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 Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Indian Nation of the Yakama Reservation-as well as the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission.

'The federally-owned treaty fishing sites are vital in the day-to-day lives of tribal fishing families but decades of use have stressed the sites beyond current capacity and maintenance levels,' said Leland Bill, Chairman of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission. 'The Columbia River In-Lieu and Treaty Fishing Access Sites Improvement legislation will bring much-needed resources to these Federal infrastructures and community assets. Our tribes and river citizens are appreciative of the Oregon and Washington Congressional delegation's commitment to these sites so our people can live and work in safe and sanitary conditions.'

'The Nez Perce Tribe would like to express its appreciation for efforts to address the living conditions faced by Nez Perce tribal members who exercise their traditional treaty rights to fish along the Columbia River,' said Mary Jane Miles, Chairman of the Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee.

'This legislation will help our fishers continue the practices of their ancestors, practices that have been carried on since time immemorial,' said Gary Burke, Chair of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation (CTUIR) Board of Trustees. 'The CTUIR hopes that this legislation will bring new focus to the In Lieu Treaty Fishing and Treaty Fishing Access sites and ensure that these sites are safe and not lost to the tribes.'