The Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians would receive land under a bill that was approved by the U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday.
The Western Oregon Tribal Fairness Act, introduced by Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Springfield, would expand the land rights of three Southwestern Oregon tribes. The bill now heads to the Senate.
“For years, these tribes have been unable to govern themselves as the sovereign nations that they are,” DeFazio said in a written release. “This should have been corrected decades ago—the fact that they haven’t yet been is an embarrassing leftover from a shameful era of United States history. While there is still much work to be done, the passage of the Western Oregon Tribal Fairness Act is a move toward progress. I urge my colleagues in the Senate to pass this legislation quickly.”
The Western Oregon Tribal Fairness Act would provide land in trust to the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians and to the Confederated Tribes of the Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw Indians. The bill also would restore the Coquille Indian Tribe’s sovereignty over the Coquille Forest.
A similar bill passed the House in 2015, but never received Senate approval. In fact, provisions for restoration of this land to the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians has been included in various bills passed by the House about six times before now, said the tribe’s CEO Michael Rondeau, but none made it to a vote in the Senate. This bill has moved through the House earlier than the others, in the first year of the two-year session, and Rondeau is hopeful it has a better chance of gaining Senate approval.
“We’re very thrilled that once again Congressman DeFazio and Congressman (Greg) Walden have been very good to us in getting that bill out of the House,” Rondeau said.
He said there’s been no real opposition to the bill.
“We’re just hopeful that we can get this through and begin the many programs we want to take place on this land, ranging from cultural and restoration projects to proper management,” he said. “It would be a wonderful thing for the legacy of the tribe. It’s going to be a multi-generational effect for the positive for both the tribe and the community.”
If it succeeds in gaining approval from the Senate and the president this time around, the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians would receive 17,519 acres, made up of scattered, mostly forested sites in South County owned by the Bureau of Land Management. It’s mostly second-growth timber that was logged in the mid-1970s.
The land was promised to the tribe in a 1853 treaty, but was never delivered. It was originally promised as a reservation in exchange for the tribe ceding 800 square miles of its ancestral home. At the time, tribal members received 18 hickory shirts, pants, shoes and hats, three coats, vests, neckerchiefs and three pairs of socks, along with a couple hundred yards of fabric, 12 dozen buttons, two pounds of thread, 10 needles, seed potatoes, a fenced and plowed field and two houses.
Currently, the tribe owns about 5,000 acres of mostly agricultural land that it has purchased, but it’s nonetheless considered a landless tribe because it never received its promised reservation lands.