House Takes Action to Address Tribal Housing Conditions on Columbia River

April 19, 2016
Press Release

Washington, DC — Today, Representative Earl Blumenauer (OR-03) announced that the U.S. House of Representatives has taken a step to encourage the construction of new tribal housing to replace villages and traditional fishing sites flooded following the construction of the Columbia River dams. The House Committee on Appropriations today released its FY 2017 Energy and Water Appropriations report that includes language requested by Representative Blumenauer urging the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to construct a new tribal village at The Dalles Dam. Later in the day, the bill and report, which included the Blumenauer language, passed the House Appropriations Committee by a voice vote and will go to the House floor next for consideration.

Thanks to advocacy from the Senators from Oregon and Washington, similar language is also included in the Senate version of this appropriations report, which passed the Senate Committee on Appropriations last week.

“It is incredibly encouraging that now both the House and Senate have taken action to begin righting these wrongs. This is an important step, but, it doesn't stop here,” said Representative Blumenauer. “I plan to continue working with my colleagues to make sure we build on this momentum to improve living conditions at existing sites and provide more permanent housing to fully meet our obligation to these tribes.”

Western development, including construction of the three lower Columbia River dams beginning in the 1930s, displaced many members of the four Columbia River treaty tribes: the Warm Springs, Umatilla, Nez Perce, and Yakama Nation. Those tribes have a treaty-protected right to fish along the river in their usual and accustomed places, but they were also promised housing to replace what was inundated after the dams became operational. That promise has largely not been kept. As a result, today, many tribal members live in makeshift housing at 31 small sites along the Columbia that were designed primarily for daily, in-season fishing access and temporary camping. The living conditions at these sites are deeply distressing and unsafe, without proper electricity, sewers, or water. Many tribal members use these areas as longer-term or permanent residences.

Representative Blumenauer has been workingwith his colleagues in the House and the Senate, as well as the Army Corps of Engineers, Bureau of Indian Affairs, and Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission to improve living conditions at existing sites and address the unmet tribal housing needs along the Columbia River. Today’s action by the House Committee on Appropriations is a step toward that end.  

“The four Columbia River treaty tribes are deeply appreciative of Representative Blumenauer’s work in getting bi-partisan support from the House Appropriations Committee on tribal housing needs along the Columbia River. His personal attention to this matter and his multiple visits to our communities have been instrumental in elevating this issue. The tribes are very aware of the promises made by the U.S. government. The growing tribal-federal collaboration will be key to correcting this injustice,” said Jeremy Red Star Wolf, Chairman, Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission.