Congressman Blumenauer strongly believes that our government has a special legal and moral obligation to Native Americans of this country given their uniquely sovereign status. This obligation is defined by treaties and statutes, and interpreted by the courts.
Sadly, the history of the United States brings no great credit to the government or Congress as an institution, and there have been many lost opportunities. The trust relationship requires the Federal Government to exercise the highest degree of care with tribal and Indian lands and resources.
Blumenauer Speaks Before the National Congress of American Indians
Congressman Blumenauer has been a leader in Congress to preserve the sovereign authority of Native American tribal governments. He supports efforts to halt and reverse the erosion of tribal sovereignty. He successfully fought to secure funding for tribal transportation infrastructure in keeping with the National Congress of American Indians' recommendations.
During the 107th Congress, independence of Native Americans was repeatedly threatened. These attacks came through the guise of tax codes, the federal tribal recognition process, and, in some cases, through proposals to actually remove lands from reservations. The proposals would have rolled back many of the Native Americans' hard-earned accomplishments. These efforts reflected a very basic misunderstanding of the fact that Native American tribal governments are now and will continue to be sovereign nations.
Congressman Blumenauer has worked to protect Native American tribal lands from damage and development, and preserve traditional access to gathering grounds for First Foods and sacred ceremonies. HR 5025, the Mt. Hood Stewardship Legacy Act, supported the ability of Native Americans to continue gathering first foods in the Mt. Hood National Forest by establishing Priority Use Areas outside of current and proposed wilderness areas. It also encouraged members of Indian tribes with treaty-reserved gathering rights to work with the Forest Service to identify and manage the areas for the gathering of first foods, including roots, berries and plants that are gathered for traditional and cultural purposes.
Congressman Blumenauer takes every opportunity to learn more about the concerns of tribal and urban Indian leaders. He hosts annual roundtables in Oregon with tribal leaders and has attended drumming and fire ceremonies at urban Indian alcohol and drug programs. During Congressional recesses, he has toured the Columbia River Gorge with Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission law enforcement officers to investigate threats to cultural sites.
Additionally, he is pressing for increased access to services for urban Indians, including supporting the reauthorization of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act, and joining efforts to elevate the position of Director of the Indian Health Service within the Department of Health and Human Services to Assistant Secretary for Indian Health.
Congressman Blumenauer supports Tribal development of renewable energy resources and is a leading proponent of tax parity for biomass as part of the Renewable Production Tax Credit program. While biomass is a resource that Tribes are starting to pursue, it only receives half of the tax credit that other renewable resources are afforded.
For thousands of years, numerous tribes based their entire livelihood and culture around the Columbia River, living on its shores and eating and trading the salmon they caused. Beginning in the 1930s, the construction of the three lower Columbia River dams created millions of jobs, economic growth, prosperity, and electricity throughout the region. But the dams inundated native fishing sites and villages, severely impacting their heritage and destroying the tribes’ economic base.
The tribes and their citizens have never been fully compensated for these losses.
Today, 31 Treaty Fishing Access Sites and “In-Lieu” sites along the banks of the Columbia River provide the four Columbia River Treaty tribes – the Nez Perce, the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation of Oregon, and the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation – access to the Columbia River to fish, compensating in a small part for lost access to the river.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers designed the sites primarily for in-season fishing access and some temporary camping. However, many tribal members currently use these sites, the majority of which are now owned by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, as permanent residences. These sites were not designed for and cannot accommodate this type of use. In fact, living conditions at these sites is unsafe, and unsanitary. For more information about current conditions, please read this story by The Oregonian.
Addressing the need for long-term housing:
In 2013, the Corps determined that many tribal families who lived on the banks of the Columbia River prior to construction of the Bonneville and The Dalles dams did not receive relocation assistance. The Corps has conducted a legal analysis to determine its “unmet obligation” to build housing on the Columbia River for the four Treaty Tribes. Blumenauer, along with his colleagues, repeatedly urged the Corps to expedite and complete the analysis, particularly before the FY 2017 appropriations process began.
Blumenauer is seeking funding for the Corps to construct housing they have the authority to replace. Where the Corps does not have existing authority, Congressman Blumenauer will work to provide them that authority to fully address the unmet obligation through the next 2016 Water Resources Development Act (WRDA). He will also ask for additional funding for the agency to meet these obligations.
Addressing living conditions at the Treaty Fishing Access and "In-Lieu" sites now:
In the short-term, Blumenauer is trying to help address current living conditions at the existing Treaty Fishing Access and In-Lieu sites. The Bureau of Indian Affairs’ budget is insufficient to provide the necessary sanitation, safety, and related infrastructure improvements for these sites. To address this, Blumenauer introduced H.R. 5811 that would specifically authorize the Bureau of Indian Affairs to assess current sanitation and safety conditions at the sites, and construct temporary structures to improve those conditions, as well as provide upgrades to critical electricity, and sewer and water infrastructure. For more information, read this coverage from The Oregonian.