Tribal Government & News

Salinas introduces bill to fix Thompson strip mistake

03.30.2023 Dean Rhodes Lands, Federal government


By Dean Rhodes

Smoke Signals editor

WASHINGTON, D.C. – New Oregon Congresswoman Andrea Salinas introduced her first piece of legislation on Wednesday, March 22, to fix a mistake written into the Grand Ronde Reservation Act in 1994.

The Bureau of Land Management discovered a survey error on the Grand Ronde Reservation that dated back to 1871. The error was discovered after passage of the Grand Ronde Reservation Act in 1988 that returned 9,811 acres to the Tribe.

Surveyor David Thompson had incorrectly surveyed the eastern boundary of the Reservation, leaving 84 acres unsurveyed. The land also was excluded from a 1904 sale of unallotted lands within the Reservation and Grand Ronde was not compensated for it.

Until the error was discovered, BLM treated the land as Oregon and California Railroad Grant Lands and permitted private companies to harvest timber on the acreage.

After being informed of the survey error, the Tribe determined the parcel, called the Thompson Strip, was unmanageable because of narrow boundaries and divided ownership interests. The Tribe agreed to accept a 240-acre parcel of grant lands adjacent to the Grand Ronde Reservation in exchange and surrender its claims to the Thompson Strip.

However, the Department of the Interior in 1994 “developed broad language that relinquished any future claims of this type within the state of Oregon” by the Grand Ronde Tribe.

“In agreeing to this land exchange in 1994, the intent of the parties was for Grand Ronde to relinquish its rights only to the Thompson Strip,” Tribal Chairwoman Cheryle A. Kennedy said during congressional testimony in 2020. “There was no intention by BLM or BIA officials involved in this land swap to extinguish the Tribe’s land claim rights for the entire state of Oregon.”

Salinas’ bill is co-sponsored by Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden, and Reps. Suzanne Bonamici, Earl Blumenauer, Val Hoyle and Lori Chavez-DeRemer.

“The Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde Community were the original stewards of Oregon’s land and natural resources – and like so many other Indigenous peoples, they have faced tremendous injustices at the hands of the federal government,” Salinas said. “I’ve always believed that while we are not responsible for the ills of the past, we are responsible for remedying them today. My amendment to the Grand Ronde Reservation Act aligns with that important pursuit and I thank Sen. Merkley as well as the many partners and stakeholders who contributed to this process.”

“Hayu masi to Sen. Merkley and to Rep. Salinas, who made this legislation one of her first priorities,” Kennedy said. “Not only did the United States make errors surveying Grand Ronde lands, but it then took away Grand Ronde’s ability to be compensated for the errors. That’s not right. It’s great to know our representatives understand the problem and are ready to help correct the injustice.”

The bill, if signed into law, would allow the Grand Ronde Tribe to pursue future fixes if other errors are found.

In the House, the bill has been referred to the Committee on Natural Resources, and in the Senate, it was referred to the Committee on Indian Affairs.

A similar bill introduced by Bonamici and Merkley in the previous Congress did not pass before the end of the congressional term.