Tribal Government & News

Reservation Act amendment to fix Thompson strip error signed into law

12.20.2023 Danielle Harrison and Dean Rhodes Federal government, Reservation


By Danielle Harrison and Dean Rhodes

Smoke Signals staff

WASHINGTON – An amendment to the Grand Ronde Reservation Act that would fix a mistake incorporated into the act in 1994 was unanimously approved by the U.S. Senate on Tuesday, Dec. 19.

The bill was signed into law by President Biden on Tuesday, Dec. 26, and it will allow the Grand Ronde Tribe to pursue future fixes within the state of Oregon if other errors are found.

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 Grand Ronde 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.

House Resolution 1722 replaces the phrase “state of Oregon” with the phrase “84 acres known as the Thompson Strip” in the Grand Ronde Reservation Act. It will also prohibit any property obtained by the Grand Ronde Tribe as part of a land claim settlement from being used for gaming activities.

“The Thompson Strip (legislation) has been going on for almost a decade,” Tribal Council Chairwoman Cheryle A. Kennedy said during a Facebook Live meeting Wednesday, Dec. 20. “One (chamber) would pass it and other wouldn’t. They couldn’t get it together. We had no recourse if there was another survey error. The proposal (passed by Congress) removed that. … This is phenomenal. My thinking about these things were once only dreams is hallelujah, here we are.”

Oregon Rep. Andrea Salinas introduced legislation to fix the mistake on March 22. Her bill was co-sponsored by Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden, and Reps. Suzanne Bonamici, Earl Blumenauer, Val Hoyle and Lori Chavez-DeRemer.

“I am deeply proud that my amendment to the Grand Ronde Reservation Act has passed the Senate and will soon become law,” Salinas said. “This is a historic moment not only for the Grand Ronde Tribe, but for Indigenous peoples in Oregon and across the country. At long last, the Grand Ronde Tribe will finally have the right to pursue land claims and compensation once again. I am so grateful to Senator Merkley, my Oregon colleagues and everyone who helped get this important legislation across the finish line, and I look forward to seeing it signed into law in the coming days.”

“A gross injustice against the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde is finally ending, and a new chapter of healing and justice for the Tribal community can begin,” Merkley said. “Nearly three decades ago, the Grand Ronde sought to fix a historical surveying error within their reservation boundary, only for the federal government to make another error that relinquished the Tribe’s rights to future land claims and compensation. I’ve long championed legislation to correct this egregious injustice. With the strong partnership of Representative Salinas, it is finally becoming a law that will ensure the Grand Ronde has the legal ability to restore its right to pursue land claims in Oregon—rights already available to other federally-recognized Tribes in Oregon.”

In the House, the bill was referred to the Committee on Natural Resources, which passed it out of committee to the full House in September.

A companion bill also was introduced in the Senate in March by Merkley and heard by the Committee on Indian Affairs in July.

The Committee on Indian Affairs advanced similar legislation in July 2020 and it was approved by the entire Senate. However, it was not passed by the House of Representatives and the bill died at the end of the 117th Congress.