PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – Oregon lawmakers at the federal and state levels are throwing their support behind a bill that would amend the Grand Ronde Reservation Act and restore the tribes’ right to pursue land claims and compensation.
Oregon Congresswoman Andrea Salinas, a Democrat from District 6, introduced a bill March 22 that would end a restriction placed on the tribes by a drafting error that was made in a 1994 legislative amendment to the Grand Ronde Reservation Act. The bill is co-led by U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore.
According to lawmakers, the 1994 legislative amendment to the act was meant to rectify an error that occurred more than a century earlier, around 1871, when a surveyor failed to include 84 acres onto the reservation.
According to a report submitted to the Senate by the Committee on Indian Affairs in 2021, the Bureau of Land Management treated the 84 acres as Oregon & California Railroad Grant Lands since 1871 and allowed timber to be harvested from the land.
The error was not discovered by the Bureau of Land Management until 1988 and by the time the tribes learned of the land, known as the Thomson Strip, it was determined to be unmanageable due to its narrow boundaries and because of the fact that its ownership was divided between several parties.
The Committee on Indian Affairs’ 2021 report said that in 1994, the tribes determined a land exchange with the BLM would result in the best compensation for the 84 acres they were entitled to. The amendment to the Grand Ronde Reservation Act in 1994 resulted in the Department of the Interior giving 240 acres of land to the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde Community.
However, the amendment further prohibited the tribes from making any additional land claims if new errors were ever discovered.
Salinas and Merkley’s bill aims to end this restriction and allow them to pursue land claims and compensation. This will permit them to pursue recourse if any additional survey errors are found.
“The Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde Community were the original stewards of Oregon’s land and natural resources – and, like so many other Indigenous peoples, they have faced tremendous injustices at the hands of the federal government,” Salinas said in a statement.
Lawmakers say no other Oregon tribe is bound by this type of legal restriction. Removing it will provide the Grande Ronde Tribes the same liberty.
The amendment Salinas is proposing would replace the phrase “lands within the State of Oregon” with the phrase “the 84 acres known as the Thompson Strip,” clarifying that they are only prohibited from making additional land claims to the area known as the Thompson Strip, if additional survey errors are discovered.
Wyden said the amendment is a key step on the journey to justice for the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde and Tribal Council Chairwoman Cheryle Kennedy. She’s grateful lawmakers are making it a top priority.
“Not only did the United States make errors surveying Grand Ronde lands, but it then took away Grand Ronde’s ability to be compensated for the errors. That’s not right. It’s great to know our representatives understand the problem and are ready to help correct this injustice,” she said.
This is the first piece of legislation Salinas has introduced since taking office.
The bill is supported by all of Oregon’s congressional members except Republican Rep. Cliff Bentz from District 2.