Tribe continues effort to amend Reservation Act for land acquisitions
By Dean Rhodes
Smoke Signals editor
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The Tribe continued its effort to amend the 1988 Grand Ronde Reservation Act to streamline how the Tribe takes former reservation land into trust on Tuesday, July 24, when Tribal Vice Chair Reyn Leno testified orally and in writing before the House Subcommittee on Indian and Alaska Native Affairs.
In early February, Tribal Chairwoman Cheryle A. Kennedy traveled to Washington, D.C., to testify before the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs in support of Senate Bill 356, which is the sister bill to House Resolution 726.
The Senate bill was introduced by Oregon Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley and co-sponsored by fellow Oregon Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden.
The House resolution was introduced by Oregon. Rep. Kurt Schrader and co-sponsored by Oregon Reps. Earl Blumenauer, Suzanne Bonamici, Peter DeFazio and Greg Walden, as well as Oklahoma Rep. Dan Boren.
The proposed amendment would end the current two-step process that requires the Grand Ronde Tribe take each piece of former reservation land into trust with approval from the Bureau of Indian Affairs and then request that the land be designated reservation land by Congress.
The amendment would allow the Tribe to combine the two-step process for real property that is within the boundaries of its original 69,100-acre reservation granted to the Tribe in 1857.
The amendment is supported by the U.S. Department of Interior and by the boards of commissioners in Polk and Yamhill counties.
Michael Black, director of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, testified that the BIA supports the amendment to the Grand Ronde Reservation Act.
Schrader, who attended the House hearing, said his goal is to deal with the process of bringing off-reservation land into trust.
“The process is pretty Byzantine and difficult,” Schrader said, citing the Western Oregon Termination Act, which terminated the Grand Ronde Tribe in 1954. “By establishing exterior reservation boundaries, which reflect the Tribe’s original reservations, pre-Termination, as I am seeking to do … will provide the BIA with the ability to process the fee-to-trust applications as on-reservation, thus expediting the process, get rid of some of the bureaucracy and make it much easier for the Tribes to add to their existing reservation lands.”
“The Tribe is hampered in its efforts to restore land within its original reservation by a lengthy and cumbersome Bureau of Indian Affairs process,” Leno testified. “Because the Tribe does not have exterior reservation boundaries, all parcels are processed under the more rigorous off-reservation acquisition regulations – even if the parcel is located within the boundaries of the original reservation.
“After the land is accepted into trust, the Tribe must take an additional step of amending its Reservation Act through federal legislation to include the trust parcels in order for the land to be deemed reservation land.”
Leno said the Grand Ronde Tribe has approached Congress twice in the last 20 years to amend its Reservation Act to include trust lands. The Tribe currently owns slightly more than 10,312 acres that are designated reservation status.
“This process is unduly time-consuming, expensive, bureaucratic and often takes years to complete,” Leno said.
Leno said the amendment would establish that real property located within the boundaries of the Tribe’s original reservation will be treated as on-reservation land and deemed part of the Tribe’s reservation once is it taken into trust. In addition, it would make it so that the Tribe’s lands held in trust on the date of the legislation would automatically become part of the Tribe’s reservation.
“H.R. 726 would not only save Grand Ronde time and money, which would be better utilized serving its membership, but would also streamline the department’s land-into-trust responsibilities to Grand Ronde, thus saving taxpayer money,” Leno said.
Siletz Tribal Chairwoman Delores Pigsley and Robert Garcia, chair of the Confederated Tribes of Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw Indians, said they support the Grand Ronde bill.
Tribe opposes Siletz legislation
As Kennedy did in February, Leno also spoke in opposition to a bill that would expand the Siletz Reservation. Grand Ronde opposes the bill – H.R. 6141 and Senate Bill 908 – because it attempts to re-characterize the Coast Reservation, which was set aside for all western Oregon Tribes, as the Siletz Reservation.
“We believe the purpose of the Siletz legislation is to eliminate the historic claims of other Tribes to the former Coast Reservation, which was set aside for all Tribes in western Oregon, by equating the boundaries of the Siletz Reservation (established in 1875) with the boundaries of the Coast Reservation (established in 1855),” Leno said in his written testimony.
Leno said the Coast Reservation was set aside for Indians throughout western Oregon, including the ancestral Tribes and Bands of the Grand Ronde from the Willamette, Umpqua and Rogue River valleys.
“Their proposed legislation is nothing more than a veiled attempt to eradicate the claims of Grand Ronde and other western Oregon Tribes to the Coast Reservation,” Leno said.
As he also did in February before the Senate, Garcia spoke against the Siletz legislation.
“I regret that we must oppose (the Siletz legislation) as introduced,” Garcia said. “It would grant the Siletz, just one of the many Tribes forced to reside within the boundaries of the Coast Reservation, a unique right to claim favorable on-reservation treatment under the IRA (Indian Reorganization Act) for all land acquisitions in the area of overlap, including land that my Tribe lives on. … The Siletz and only the Siletz are entitled to have treated as on-reservation acquisition of all the property they propose for trust within the 800,000 acres of the Coast Reservation. To give the Siletz this favorable treatment is unsupported by law, is historically inaccurate and is just unfair to my people.”
Pigsley testified in support of the legislation.
“We support the Siletz’s objective of taking into trust land in Lincoln County that has historically been within the exclusive reservation land of the Tribe, but not the rewriting of history to expand the Siletz Reservation, and thereby excluding other federally recognized Tribes from their hereditary land claims,” Leno said in the written testimony.
Also attending the House hearing were Tribal Council Secretary Jack Giffen Jr. and Tribal Attorney Rob Greene.