Tribal Government & News

Reservation Act amendment proceeding in Congress

03.10.2011 Ron Karten Federal government, State government

Tribe seeks streamlined process for taking former land back into trust

Smoke Signals editor

An amendment to the 1988 Grand Ronde Reservation Act that would streamline how the Tribe takes former reservation land back into Tribal ownership has been introduced in both the House of Representatives and Senate in Washington, D.C.

The amendment has the unanimous support of Oregon's Democratic delegation, which includes Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley and Representatives Earl Blumenauer, Peter DeFazio, Kurt Schrader and David Wu.

The amendment would end the current two-step process that requires the Grand Ronde Tribe to take each piece of former reservation land into trust with approval from the Bureau of Indian Affairs and then request that it be designated reservation land. The amendment would allow the Tribe to combine the process for property that was within the boundaries of the original reservation.

"The current process is time consuming and often takes years to complete," Tribal Attorney Rob Greene said. "The amendment means a significant savings of time and resources" to the Tribe and federal government.

"Our Tribal people have worked tirelessly to pursue our goals of sovereignty by buying back parcels of our original reservation and providing on-reservation jobs and services to our members," said Tribal Chairwoman Cheryle A. Kennedy.

The Grand Ronde Tribe originally had a more than 60,000-acre reservation, but the federal government's allotment and other policies whittled away at that land base until 1954's Western Oregon Termination Act. The Tribe was restored in 1983 and the 1988 Grand Ronde Reservation Act, signed by President Ronald Reagan, returned 9,811 acres of the original reservation to the Tribe.

Because of federal regulations that require the Bureau of Indian Affairs to consider the effect on local governments resulting from the removal of land from tax rolls, the Tribe worked to secure the approval of Polk and Yamhill county commissioners in May and June 2010, respectively.

Tribal leaders cited the fact that the Grand Ronde Tribe offsets any loss of tax revenue by substantially reinvesting in the community, which straddles the county line between Polk and Yamhill counties.

The Tribe constructed the new $1 million West Valley Fire District fire station on Grand Ronde Road, as well as was the lead agency in the $6.4 million reconstruction of Grand Ronde Road, which made the roadway safer for motorists and pedestrians alike.

"It's uplifting to see the unanimous support our representatives in Congress and our local county governments have given this effort," Kennedy added. "We would not be here without their help and encouragement. It's a shining example of government-to-government cooperation."

Tribal leaders are hopeful that the amendment will be approved during this session of Congress.