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Congress passes two bills aimed at helping Oregon Native American tribes

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(The Center Square) – Two bills lawmakers think will help the Native American community in Oregon will soon become law.

One is H.R.2839, championed by U.S. Rep. Val Hoyle, D-Oregon, and U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon, that they think will offer fairness to the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians, regarding fishing, trapping, and hunting.

The bill recently passed in the U.S. House and U.S. Senate. It will let the Siletz Tribe go to federal court to ask for the termination or modification of a 1980 consent decree that made the tribe give up its traditional hunting and fishing activities as a condition of land restoration.

The Oregon Fish & Wildlife Commission recently approved a new hunting and fishing agreement with the tribe. However, the tribe still needs to invalidate the consent decree, according to Merkley’s office.

“I am grateful that H.R. 2839, my first standalone bill to pass the House and now the Senate, will become law,” Hoyle said. “This law will restore their hunting and fishing rights on their ancestral lands. The Siletz Tribe never should have been forced to give up their sovereign rights and we have a responsibility to right this historic wrong and ensure the Siletz are treated as other Tribes are.”

The Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians and the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde are the only two federally recognized tribes with consent decrees legally restricting them from negotiating for traditional hunting and fishing activities on their land.

Additionally, U.S. Rep. Andrea Salinas, D-Oregon, and Merkley championed a bill to amend the Grand Ronde Reservation Act that was recently passed in both chambers of Congress.

Their bill fixes a drafting error in the 1994 act. It authorized a land exchange requiring the Bureau of Land Management to compensate the Grand Ronde Tribe for an 84-acre survey error the federal government made, according to Merkley’s office. The error happened in 1871, but the federal government did not realize it until 1988. However, the original bill banned the Tribe from making any more land claims if additional errors were found. The bill Salinas and Merkley got passed would end this restriction, which applies to none of the other federally recognized tribes in the state. Their bill would change the law to only bar the tribe from making additional claims regarding that 84 acres of land.

“I am deeply proud that my amendment to the Grand Ronde Reservation Act has passed the Senate and will soon become law. This is a historic moment not only for the Grand Ronde Tribe, but for Indigenous peoples in Oregon and across the country,” Salinas said. “At long last, the Grand Ronde Tribe will finally have the right to pursue land claims and compensation once again. I am so grateful to Senator Merkley, my Oregon colleagues, and everyone who helped get this important legislation across the finish line, and I look forward to seeing it signed into law in the coming days.”

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