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US House Passes Bill To Improve Tribal Fishing Sites

<p>The Underwood in-lieu fishing site in Washington is stationed near the confluence of the White Salmon and Columbia rivers.</p>

The Underwood in-lieu fishing site in Washington is stationed near the confluence of the White Salmon and Columbia rivers.

On Monday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill that would provide $11 million to improve unsafe and unsanitary living conditions at tribal fishing sites on the Columbia River.

Over time, the federal government created 31 in-lieu fishing sites for Native American tribes to make up for the land that was flooded when the Columbia River dams were built.

The tribes were also promised new housing to replace what was lost. But that promise still hasn’t been fulfilled. In the meantime, many tribal fishermen have created makeshift residences at the in-lieu fishing sites.

U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., visited one of those sites near The Dalles a few years ago.

"It was really horrific," he said. "Sewage, electrical lines patched together. It really wasn’t safe for human habitation and there were dozens of people there."

Blumenauer sponsored the bill, which would pay for upgrades to the kind of conditions he saw.

The bill now moves to the Senate.

Wilbur Slockish, chief of the Klickitat Tribe within the Yakama Nation, said he was grateful to Blumenauer for getting some money to upgrade the fishing sites. However, he said, those sites were once tribal villages, and the government never replaced what was lost when they were flooded.

Slockish said his family fished for generations in one of the flooded areas below Bonneville Dam.

"All of a sudden we hear the government owns them, but we were never compensated," he said. "My grandfather, my grandmother, my aunts, my uncles and some of my cousins that utilized that area, they’ve all left this world. I’m 74 and I’m hoping my children don’t have to wait another 70 years. It should be viewed as replacing what was lost to the original families that occupied that area."

Blumenauer called Monday's House vote "a good start," though it doesn't provide the tribal housing that was promised decades ago.

"We have not met our obligations to native people," Blumenauer said. "What things have happened have been only after a struggle and they have not been adequate. The native people have been waiting for decades." 

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