Western Oregon Tribal Fairness Act set to become US law

Legislation from HR 1306 would transfer control of 32,000 acres of federal land to tribes

Updated Jan. 8, 2018 — On Monday, President Donald Trump signed into law The Western Oregon Tribal Fairness Act. 


Jan. 6, 2018 — In a rare example of bipartisan law making, House Resolution (HR) 1306, The Western Oregon Tribal Fairness Act, will convey more than 32,000 acres of land, currently under federal control, to three tribal entities in western and southern Oregon.

The bill was passed by the House of Representatives in the summer of 2017 and the Senate approved the bill by voice vote for delivery to the President on Dec. 27, 2017.

HR 1306 provides for conveyance of land to three of Oregon’s nine federally recognized tribes.

The Western Oregon Tribal Fairness Act would place 17,519 acres of federal land, currently managed by the Bureau of Land Management, (BLM) into trust for the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians and 14,742 acres of federal land into trust for the Confederated Tribes of Coos, Lower Umpqua, and Siuslaw Indians.

It would also amend the Coquille Restoration Act to require the Interior Department to manage the Coquille Indian Tribes’ forestlands in the same way as other tribal forestlands.

President Donald Trump has 10 legislative days from the time the bill is presented for his signature, to veto the legislation or to sign it into law.

If no action is taken by the president during this time period, the bill automatically becomes law.

The president is not expected to veto the legislation, according to multiple sources on the hill, primarily because of the strong support the bill has received in both houses of legislative branch.

If there is no veto of the bill, it will take effect on Tuesday, Jan. 9.

HR 1306 was introduced in March by District 4 Rep. Peter Defazio and the legislation is cosponsored by District 2 Rep. Greg Walden.

Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley were sponsors of the bill in the Senate.

Coquille Tribal Chairwoman Brenda Meade is pleased with the change in the law and the shift in the position of the federal government.

“We are tremendously relieved and grateful to have the Senate address the disparity that has burdened our forest for so long. We have managed these forests since time began,” Meade said. “We are excited to once again be in control of a small piece of our homeland.”

The intent of the legislation has several components. One element is the restoration of ancestral lands to indigenous people that were victimized by government officials and civilians intent on cashing in on the gold fever of the 1850s.

Additionally, the bills’ sponsors said they see the need to expand the control native peoples have over the resources they own, such as timber and minerals.

“While there is still much work to be done to correct our nation’s injustices towards Native Americans, the passage of the Western Oregon Tribal Fairness Act is an encouraging move towards progress,” DeFazio said. “This legislation will finally grant the Coos, Cow Creek and Coquille Tribes the long-deserved opportunity to manage their own economic development and exercise their own authority over tribal lands.”

Walden also endorses the idea of increased sovereignty for Oregon’s tribal confederations.

“The passage of this bill is an important step for these three tribes. The Cow Creek and Coos tribes see a restoration of lands, and the Coquille will finally be able to manage their forest lands the same way as other tribes,” Walden said. “This bill ensures these tribes can sustainably manage these lands to benefit the environment and local economy, creating jobs in their communities. I am proud to have worked alongside my colleagues to pass this long-overdue bill out of Congress, and look forward to the president signing it into law.”

 Both Oregon senators were champions of the bill in the Senate, with Wyden providing the rationale for the transfer of land.

“While more can and must be done to rectify the injustices that tribes have long faced, passing this bill into law marks an important step forward in recognizing the sovereignty of western Oregon tribes,” Wyden said. “By returning land to both the Coos and Cow Creek tribes, and by putting the management of Coquille’s lands on equal footing with other tribal lands, this bill honors and respects each tribe’s right to be economically self-sufficient and provide jobs and resources for their communities.”

Merkley was equally clear in his assessment and endorsement of the act.

“With the Western Oregon Tribal Fairness Act, we will enable tribes to enhance their self-determination and ability to restore ancestral lands, while creating greater economic opportunity,” Merkley said. “It’s long overdue, and I am thrilled this bill is heading to the president’s desk to be signed into law.”

The bill also requires the Department of the Interior to locate a similar amount of land in the public domain and reclassify that land as Oregon and California grant land.

According to legislative aides from the offices of Defazio and Wyden, they believe HR 1306 will in fact become law, avoiding a veto from the president.