Army Corps dedicates funds for tribal housing

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Allocated funds will be used to replace tribal housing along the Columbia River.

U.S. Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Ron Wyden (D-OR), and Patty Murray (D-WA), along with Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR3), announced Feb. 13 that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has dedicated funding to begin the process of replacing long-lost tribal housing along the Columbia River.

The Army Corps will immediately dedicate up to $1.56 million for a village development plan to replace housing that was lost during construction of The Dalles Dam, with plans to dedicate $1.49 million more, depending on congressional funding for the rest of fiscal year 2017. The current funding bill runs through April 28, 2017.

"With this funding, we are beginning to right this historic wrong for tribal members," Merkley said. "Leaving our tribes displaced, without relocation assistance, was simply wrong. We are another step closer to making good on the federal government's obligation for housing and infrastructure. I will continue fighting to honor this decades old promise, ensuring tribal members have the safe, reliable housing they deserve."

"I am gratified an injustice that's lingered far too long for Native American communities in Oregon will take this needed step to get the resources to reverse a deeply troubling history," Wyden said. "Native children and families deserve safe housing that can protect them from serious health and safety hazards along the Columbia River."

"This is another promising step toward fulling the federal government's obligation to the tribes along the Columbia River, but this is not the end of the road," said Murray. "I commend the Army Corps for its recent work and urge fast action to use this much needed funding to develop plans to provide tribal members with safe, sanitary housing and related infrastructure near The Dalles Dam."

"It's about time that the federal government put some much needed funding towards fulfilling its obligations to the Lower Columbia River tribes," said Blumenauer. "I'm encouraged that those impacted by The Dalles Dam will be able to move forward, but this is only a drop in the bucket for what is needed. I urge the federal government to move quickly to remedy this situation."

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 senators and congressman 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.

A Fact-Finding Review on Tribal Housing prepared by the Army Corps found that as many as 85 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, despite the fact that several nontribal communities inundated by dam construction did receive such assistance.