Rep. Blumenauer & Sens. Merkley, Wyden, Murray & Cantwell Introduce Legislation to Improve Sanitation and Safety Conditions at Columbia River Fishing Sites

July 14, 2016
Press Release

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, U.S. Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-OR-03) and U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Patty Murray (D-WA), and Maria Cantwell (D-WA) introduced the Columbia River In-Lieu and Treaty Fishing Access Sites Improvement Act, bicameral legislation to enable the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs to make important safety and sanitation improvements at federally-owned tribal treaty fishing sites along the Columbia River.

“While we work to provide longer-term relief through the construction of permanent housing, this legislation calls for immediate action to improve conditions at the tribal fishing sites along the Columbia River,” said Blumenauer. “Urgent upgrades are needed for electrical, sewer, and other basic improvements to address safety, sanitation, and other conditions. The federal government shouldn’t let more time pass without helping to make sure that the basic necessities of clean and safe conditions are pursued. The status quo is unacceptable.”

“It is long past time that we honored 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. 

“This legislation begins to undo a shameful legacy of shabby treatment for tribal members who have long deserved better,” Wyden said. “These glaring public health and safety hazards for children and families must be addressed now as an essential part of repairing a sad history of injustice.”

“I believe it is critical for there to be safe, reliable housing along the Columbia River so treaty tribes can exercise their protected rights,” said Murray. “Salmon fishing is an integral part of the Native American legacy, and this legislation aims to make long-overdue improvements to tribal fishing access rights while we work on the longer-term need for additional housing. This is an important step toward honoring tribal rights.”

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, and were also promised housing to replace what was flooded after the dams became operational. That promise has largely not been kept, and the Tribes and their citizens have never been fully compensated for these losses.

As a result, today, many tribal members live year-round in makeshift housing at 31 small sites along the Columbia River that were designed primarily for daily, in-season fishing access and temporary camping and cannot sustainably accommodate this intense use. In fact, many people at these sites are living in extremely distressed, unsafe, and unsanitary conditions, and the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs has not committed the resources necessary to ensure the basic necessities of clean and safe living conditions there.

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 Nez Perce Tribe appreciates the leadership of Congressman Blumenauer and Senator Merkley in introducing the Columbia River In-Lieu and Treaty Fishing Access Sites Improvement Act to address the conditions at tribal fishing sites along the Columbia River.  The Nez Perce Tribe has invested a tremendous amount of time and resources to help restore the fishing resources that were drastically impacted by the construction of the Columbia River Power System.  Unfortunately, access to this resource is affected by the conditions of these sites.  It is our hope that this legislation will provide solutions to the problems that prevent tribal members from being able to exercise their treaty rights in safe and sanitary conditions,” said McCoy Oatman, Vice-Chairman of the Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee.

“The Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation (CTUIR) offer our support for the ‘Columbia River In-Lieu and Treaty Fishing Access Sites Improvement Act.’ This legislation is intended to provide a safe and healthy place for tribal members to exercise their Treaty Rights and support their families and their communities. Fishing is one of the critical means to cultural food gathering by CTUIR and 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, Board of Trustees, Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation

“We need to start by providing some basic human necessities such as clean water, basic sanitation, and fire safety infrastructure to tribal fishing sites along the Columbia River,” said Jeremy Red Star Wolf, Chairman of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission. “The bill introduced today in both chambers of Congress highlights the importance of this near-term need and lays a path for the Bureau of Indian Affairs to remedy many of these problems now. We appreciate the Delegation’s commitment and their multi-faceted approach to addressing the problems and continuing to do so into the future.”

###