Tribal fishing sites along Columbia River supported by NW Congre - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

Tribal fishing sites along Columbia River supported by NW Congressional members with new Legislation

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PORTLAND, OR - Tribal fishing families living in distressed conditions along the Columbia River received major support today when Oregon and Washington members of the U.S. House and Senate introduced legislation that would authorize the Secretary of the Interior to assess and improve the living conditions at federally-owned tribal treaty fishing sites.

If passed, the “Columbia River In-Lieu and Treaty Fishing Access Sites Improvement Act,” would call upon the Bureau of Indian Affairs to assess the current sanitation and safety conditions at Bureau-owned facilities that were constructed to provide treaty tribes access to traditional fishing grounds. The bill recommends expenditures as necessary for actions that would improve sanitation and other infrastructure such as water and sewer for the sites.

“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.”

“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 Representative 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.”

The construction of federal dams on the Columbia River restricted tribal members’ access to tribal treaty fishing grounds and displaced tribal fishing families that lived along the Columbia River. As a result, tribal families now reside in unsafe and unsanitary conditions at multiple sites along the Columbia River.

“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 Senator 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,” Senator 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 Senator 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.”

Multiple Congressional actions including appropriations and federal authorizations are driving a multi-agency coalition to adequately address tribal housing conditions along the Columbia River. Representative Blumenauer, Senator Merkley, Senator Wyden, Senator Murray, and Cantwell’s leadership along with the work of their colleagues, as well as the Army Corps of Engineers, Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Treaty Tribes and Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission will be instrumental to improving the conditions at these sites and addressing the needs of tribal fishers along the Columbia River.