May 3, 2019
If you’ve ever driven Interstate 84 east of Portland, you’ve probably witnessed the dramatic Columbia River Gorge and the exciting changes in landscape as you pass through The Dalles and beyond. What you may not have noticed, however, is the important and consistent presence of Native American fishing communities, bonded to this area since time immemorial, all along the Columbia River. Once thriving in villages up and down the banks of the mighty Columbia, many of these communities were displaced through decades of area development – including the construction of three major dams in the 1930s. Tribal members were squeezed into temporary settlements and many had nowhere to go.
Now, many Tribal members live year-round in makeshift housing at traditional fishing sites, in the shadows of the massive dams that help power the Pacific Northwest. These sites were built for day-use only and lack adequate infrastructure for semi-permanent housing. Unfortunately, this has lead to Tribal members living in unsafe and unsanitary conditions while the federal government works to correct the injustice of their original displacement. Until now, the federal government has failed to give this situation the attention that it deserves. That is about to change.
Today, the House passed my bill, the Columbia River In-Lieu and Treaty Fishing Access Sites Improvement Act, to address key sanitation, safety, and related infrastructure issues at the fishing sites where Tribal members have settled. Importantly, under this policy, Tribal communities will help lead the much-needed work. While there is more to do to address the injustices faced by these communities, this is a key step.
I’m continuing to work to ensure the federal government fulfills its obligation to replace Tribal housing that was lost when the dams were built. But thanks to this bill, Tribal communities will see much-needed, tangible improvements that will improve their quality of life and fortify their connection to the Columbia. We must ensure the life-blood of their heritage is protected and respected.