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White House Blocks Money For Tribal Housing On Columbia River

Jack Williams
OSU Special Collections & Archives/ Flickr -
Celilo Falls as seen in September 1956. The falls and nearby Native American settlements were submerged by the construction of The Dalles Dam in 1957.

The White House is blocking money to build new tribal housing along the Columbia River. That’s according to five members of the Washington and Oregon congressional delegations.

The $1.5 million in federal money would have funded planning for development of new housing for four tribes—the Nez Perce Tribe, the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Reservation, the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation, and the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation.

Their members were displaced beginning in the 1930s, when construction of Bonneville, The Dalles and John Day dams on the lower Columbia River flooded homes, villages and traditional hunting and fishing grounds.

For years, the tribes have argued the government has not made good on its promises to fully compensate them. Some tribal members have continued to live along the river in mobile homes and dilapidated temporary housing.

Earlier this year, Congress approved $3 million for the Army Corps of Engineers to begin planning new housing near The Dalles Dam. The Corps had half of that money in hand.

To continue the work, the Corps needed the White House’s Office of Management and Budget to "re-program" $1.5 million from elsewhere in the Army Corps’ budget, according to congressional sources.

Last week, staffers from the offices of U.S. Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell of Washington, U.S. Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley of Oregon and U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon were told by staff at the White House’s Office of Management and Budget that the money would not be forthcoming.

The reason: According to one Senate staffer, the White House has other priorities. OMB also argued the Army Corps should not be in the housing business.

In a letter to OMB Director Mick Mulvaney, the five members of Congress asked for reconsideration of the White House decision.

“The federal government has a legal and moral responsibility to address the unmet obligations of the United States to the four Columbia River Treaty Tribes… for the loss of tribal homes and villages associated with the construction of The Dalles Dam more than 65 years ago,” the letter stated.

Charles Hudson, the Director of Government Affairs for the Portland-based Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, which represents the interests of the four tribes, called the White House decision “disappointing.”

“Now, as a cold windy winter is about to set in, the timing could not have been worse to pull the plug on this program,” Hudson said.

The Office of Management and Budget did not respond to emails and phone calls requesting elaboration.

Deborah is an award–winning radio and television journalist whose career spans more than three decades. As the recipient of a 2018-2019 Rosalynn Carter Mental Health Journalism Fellowship, Deborah is currently focusing her reporting on adolescents and mental health.