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Bill addressing reservation land introduced in Congress

GRAND RONDE -- A bill to streamline the process of incorporating tribal-owned land into the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde reservation was introduced in both the U.S. House and Senate in late February.

March 13, 2013

GRAND RONDE -- A bill to streamline the process of incorporating tribal-owned land into the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde reservation was introduced in both the U.S. House and Senate in late February.

The bill is essentially the same as the one introduced in 2011 in which hearings were held in 2012, but proceeded no further.

"Things moved very slowly last session," said Grand Ronde tribal attorney Rob Greene. "Congress had other issues to deal with."

Greene said he is optimistic about the bill's chances this time around, noting Oregon's entire Congressional delegation supports it.

The legislation applies only to land under the tribe's ownership that is inside the boundaries of Grand Ronde's historic reservation, established in 1857, spanning portions of Polk and Yamhill counties.

Senate Bill 416 and House Resolution 841 amend the 1988 Grand Ronde Reservation Act and shorten the cumbersome process of designating reservation land.

Incorporating tribal-owned land into the reservation requires two steps: one to bring the land into trust, requiring approval of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA); and second, an act of Congress to make it reservation land.

It's a time-consuming and costly process that takes resources from other services, Greene said. The bill would combine the steps, making the process faster.

"We want to put that money into real programs," Greene said. "That's why everyone is supporting this. We have no opposition to this."

After a recent meeting between tribal officials and the Polk County Board of Commissioners to clear up confusion about the intention of the bill, the board issued a letter supporting the bill. The Yamhill County Board of Commissioners have also endorsed the legislation.

U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley introduced the Senate version on Feb. 28 with co-sponsor and fellow Sen. Ron Wyden. It was assigned to the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs the same day.

U.S. Rep. Kurt Schrader introduced the House version on Feb. 26 with co-sponsors Earl Blumenauer, Suzanne Bonamici and Peter DeFazio. It was referred to the House Subcommittee on Indian and Alaska Native Affairs on March 4. So far, no hearings have been scheduled yet.

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