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Bill would advance improvements at Yakima Nation historical fishing access sites

Following House passage, the Columbia River In-Lieu and Treaty Fishing Access Sites Improvement Act now goes to the President to be signed into law

Senator Murray: “It is the federal government’s duty to ensure our tribal communities along the river have access to safe, sanitary housing and infrastructure at historical fishing access sites”

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) applauded the passage of the Columbia River In-Lieu and Treaty Fishing Access Sites Improvement Act in the U.S. House of Representatives earlier this week, which now goes to the president’s desk to be signed into law. Senator Murray is a lead cosponsor of the Senate version of the bill.

“I’m excited to see this important legislation for our Columbia River tribes head to the President’s desk. It is the federal government’s duty to ensure our tribal communities along the river have access to safe, sanitary housing and infrastructure at historical fishing access sites—a critical component of their culture and heritage, as well as an important source of sustenance—and this bill takes another vital step toward fulfilling our government-to-government obligation,” said Senator Murray. “As a representative for our state’s tribes in the Senate, I urge the President to sign this bill into law.”

Beginning in the 1930s, the construction of the three lower Columbia River dams displaced members of the four Columbia River Treaty tribes: Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation, Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Indian Reservation, Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, and the Nez Perce Tribe. These tribes have a treaty-protected right to fish along the Columbia River in their usual and accustomed places.

Senator Murray has long fought to address the urgent need for adequate housing and infrastructure at tribal fishing access sites constructed by the Army Corps of Engineers, which were originally designed 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. Many people at these sites are living in extremely distressed, unsafe, and unsanitary conditions, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs has not committed the resources necessary to ensure the basic necessities of clean and safe living conditions at these sites.

Simultaneously, Senator Murray has been working to address unmet federal obligations to the four Columbia River Treaty Tribes, many of whom are living at these fishing sites, for flooding tribal communities and houses during the construction of The Dalles, Bonneville, and John Day dams.  In 2017, after the Trump administration’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) halted work by the Army Corps on a Village Development Plan specific to The Dalles Dam, Senator Murray successfully pushed OMB to reverse its decision, and later announced that the Army Corps allocated $1.8 million to complete The Dalles Dam Tribal Housing Village Development Plan.

The Columbia River In-Lieu and Treaty Fishing Access Sites Improvement Act would 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
  • Authorizing 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 legislation is supported by the four Columbia River Treaty tribes— Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation, Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Indian Reservation, Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, and the Nez Perce Tribe—as well as the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission.

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