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Most Oregon congressional members support restoring some land rights to Grand Ronde Tribe

The Grand Ronde Tribe has this solar array on its reservation. Legislation in Congress would restore some of the tribe's land rights
Courtesy of the U.S. Energy Department
The Grand Ronde Tribe has this solar array on its reservation. Legislation in Congress would restore some of the tribe's land rights

All of Oregon’s congressional members – except Republican Rep. Cliff Bentz – are behind a proposal to restore some tribal rights over land

A proposal introduced in the U.S. House by Democratic Rep. Andrea Salinas and in the U.S. Senate by Democratic U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley would restore the right of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde to pursue future land claims and compensation, according to a news release.

Salinas said in a release that the bill attempts to right wrongs dating to 1871, when a surveyor omitted 84 acres on the eastern edge of the reservation. An attempted fix led to a provision that rescinded the Tribe’s rights to future land claims and compensation.

“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.

The bill is co-sponsored by Oregon’s other U.S. senator, Democrat Ron Wyden, along with U.S. Democratic Reps. Suzanne Bonamici, Earl Blumenauer and Val Hoyle, and Republican Rep. Lori Chavez-DeRemer. In the House, it has been referred to the Committee on Natural Resources, and in the Senate, it has been referred to the Committee on Indian Affairs.

Merkley said he’s been championing a fix for years and that the legislation would give the Grand Ronde the same rights as Oregon’s eight other federally recognized tribes.

“I am encouraged by the increased bipartisan support in Congress for this effort and hopeful that it will give us the momentum needed to finally correct this historic injustice for the Grand Ronde,” Merkley said.

It’s unclear why Bentz, who represents the 2nd Congressional District in eastern Oregon, did not endorse the bill. He did not respond to a request for comment by Thursday evening.

The Grand Rond Reservation Act established a reservation for the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde in 1988, codifying hunting, fishing and other rights. An attempted fix for the survey error in 1994 led to a provision in the act calling on the Tribes to relinquish their right to pursue claims to all other land within the state, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

The bill would remove this restriction, allowing the Grand Ronde to pursue future fixes if other errors are found, the release said.

“Currently, no other tribe in the state of Oregon is bound by this type of legal restriction and removing it will restore equity to the Grand Ronde Tribe,” the release said.

The Oregon Capital Chronicle is a professional, nonprofit news organization. We are an affiliate of States Newsroom, a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit supported by grants and a coalition of donors and readers. The Capital Chronicle retains full editorial independence, meaning decisions about news and coverage are made by Oregonians for Oregonians.

Lynne Terry has more than 30 years of journalism experience. She reported on health and food safety in her 18 years at The Oregonian, was a senior producer at Oregon Public Broadcasting and Paris correspondent for National Public Radio for nine years.