Tribal Government & News

Congress passes Oregon Tribal Economic Development Act

05.17.2018 Dean Rhodes Tribal Council, Federal Government

WASHINGTON, D.C. – A hurdle to the Grand Ronde Tribe developing its privately held lands is one step away from being removed.

Congress passed the Oregon Tribal Economic Development Act, which now heads to the desk of President Donald Trump for a signature before it becomes law.

The Senate approved the act on Nov. 30, 2017, and the House of Representatives OK’d it on Wednesday, May 16.

The act allows five Oregon Native American Tribes, including the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, to purchase, sell, lease or convey their interests in non-trust property without the approval of the federal government. The bill does not apply to Tribal interests in property that the federal government holds in trust.

The legislation is intended to allow the Oregon Tribes greater control over transactions involving their property.

The bill was submitted by Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley on May 25, 2017. Oregon Rep. Peter DeFazio introduced an identical bill in the House of Representatives on July 13, 2017.

“(The act) will clear up any potential ambiguity regarding federal law as it pertains to Tribal lands. This is a proactive step as our Tribe has not experienced any issues regarding transfer of fee lands,” Tribal Lands Manager Jan Michael Reibach said in December when the act cleared the Senate.

“It’s absurd that Tribes were forced to get congressional approval before they could develop property that they privately own,” Merkley said in a press release announcing House passage of the act. “Several Oregon Tribes asked me for help on this issue as they encountered barriers to development projects, and I could not be more pleased to see it heading to the president’s desk to be signed into law. This legislation is critically important to Tribal sovereignty and economic growth, allowing Tribes to take ownership over development opportunities on their Reservations.”

Tribal Attorney Rob Greene mentioned the legislation to Merkley when the senator met with Tribal Council on May 4 and expressed concern that it could affect development of Chemawa Station, a joint economic development project between the Grand Ronde and Siletz Tribes.

“Tribes in Oregon should have the authority to set their own economic course, and an essential piece of that decision-making must be the flexibility to develop their privately owned property,” said Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden. “I am gratified that common sense and fairness have prevailed so that Tribes throughout our state can choose to pursue development opportunities that create jobs and revenues.”

Oregon’s only Republican in Congress, Rep. Greg Walden, said he looks forward to Trump signing the bipartisan measure into law.

“Passage of this measure will help improve the lives of Oregon Tribal members by giving them new opportunities to manage their lands without unnecessary federal red tape,” Walden said.

Currently, under the Indian Non-Intercourse Act, Tribes are required to obtain federal approval to purchase, sell, convey, warrant or lease lands they own privately. This makes it difficult, expensive and impractical for Tribes to take advantage of economic development opportunities because they have to get approval from Congress every time they want to obtain a commercial mortgage for non-trust property.

The Oregon Tribal Economic Development Act allows five Oregon Tribes to forego that additional approval on privately held lands. In addition to Grand Ronde, the act affects the Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw Indians, the Siletz Tribe, the Warm Springs Tribe and the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Indians.

“Economic development and investment is vital to improving the lives of our Tribal members,” Tribal Council Chairwoman Cheryle A. Kennedy said in a press release. “The bill removes a significant barrier to the Tribe leasing and developing fee land. The Tribe is grateful for Sen. Merkley’s leadership on this issue and his role in passing the legislation.”