The Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians will have 17,519 acres of land returned to them if President Donald Trump signs a bill that passed the U.S. Senate Thursday night.
The Western Oregon Tribal Fairness Act, H.R. 2791, would place land currently managed by the Bureau of Land Management into a trust for the Cow Creek Tribe.
The land was promised to the tribe in an 1853 treaty. It includes scattered, mostly forested sites in South County.
The announcement the Senate had passed the bill on a unanimous vote was hailed as a victory by Cow Creek Tribe CEO Michael Rondeau Friday morning.
“Having the treaty commitment fulfilled by the United States Government after nearly 165 years marks another milestone in our Tribal history,” Rondeau said in a written statement. “It strengthens the Federal/Tribal government-to-government relationship and further solidifies the Tribe as a sovereign.”
Cow Creek Tribe Chairman Dan Courtney said the law “satisfies a century-old promise and provides a permanent place for the Tribe to call home.”
The bill was sponsored by U.S. Reps. Peter DeFazio, D-Springfield, and Greg Walden, R-Hood River, and by Oregon’s U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley.
Courtney expressed gratitude to the Congressional delegation for their “diligent work to restore local management over these important forest lands.”
“The lands are historically and culturally significant to us. The provide an opportunity for the Tribe to address their cultural restoration and self-sufficiency goals, and to help the community by supporting sustainable job creation,” Courtney said.
Tim Vredenburg, the Cow Creek Tribe’s director of forest management, said tribal forest management will create increased timber yields, suppress fire danger, protect water and protect local mills.
Rondeau said having a place to gather, fish, hunt, camp and meet, and make a meaningful living is “the culmination of a dream seven generations old.”
“We are committed to making these lands serve our Tribe beneficially for the next seven generations and beyond, as well as providing a rising of the tide in our greater community,” Rondeau said.
Under the law, another 14,742 acres will go into trust for the Confederated Tribes of Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw Indians.
The legislators issued a joint statement Friday praising the bill’s passage.
Wyden said more must be done to rectify injustices the tribes have faced, but said the bill’s passage is an important step forward.
“By returning land to both the Coos and Cow Creek Tribes ... this bill honors and respects each tribe’s right to be economically self-sufficient and provide jobs and resources for their communities,” Wyden said.
Merkley said the act will provide economic opportunity and enhance self-determination.
“It’s long overdue, and I am thrilled this bill is heading to the President’s desk to be signed into law,” he said.
DeFazio said there’s “still much work to be done to correct our nation’s injustices towards Native Americans, the passage of the Western Oregon Tribal Fairness Act is an encouraging move toward progress. This legislation will finally grant the Coos, Cow Creek and Coquille Tribes the long-deserved opportunity to manage their own economic development and exercise their own authority over tribal lands.”
The bill passed the House of Representatives in July.