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Oregon Tribes Get $20 Million In Federal Land Management Settlement

File photo of the Robert F. Kennedy Department of Justice Building in Washington, D.C.
Wikimedia -
File photo of the Robert F. Kennedy Department of Justice Building in Washington, D.C.

The U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of the Interior Monday announced a $492 million settlement with a number of tribes. It ends decades-long disputes between the tribes and the federal government over land management.

Oregon’s Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Reservation are among the last recipients. The Umatilla Reservation is home to the Cayuse, Umatilla and Walla Walla people.

Spokesman Chuck Sams said they will receive $20 million as part of the settlement, but he called it ‘bittersweet.’

“My grandfather, who is a tribal member who passed back in 1998, would have probably benefitted from some of these lease agreements collected by the tribe years ago,” Sams said.

As far back as the 1800s, the U.S. government agreed to ‘just compensation’ to use land and resources otherwise owned by tribes. On some of the tribes’ land, the government issued leases and permits to non-tribal members for things like farming and grazing, oil and natural gas development and logging.

For decades, tribes have argued over lack of payment and mismanagement of those lands.

“Because of this potential mismanagement that had been conducted by the U.S. government, he never saw the benefits of those funds,” Sams said.

Sams said 75 percent of settlement money will be allocated among tribal members and the remaining 25 percent will be used for economic and social development on the reservation.

While legally the case is settled, Sams said social anxiety caused by decades of mistrust remains.

“What we are really looking forward to is the stability of the federal government in its agencies and departments in ensuring that this settlement sends a clear message to them that they are obligated to uphold that trust responsibility,” he said.

Copyright 2016 Northwest News Network

Emily Schwing
Emily Schwing comes to the Inland Northwest by way of Alaska, where she covered social and environmental issues with an Arctic spin as well as natural resource development, wildlife management and Alaska Native issues for nearly a decade. Her work has been heard on National Public Radio’s programs like “Morning Edition” and “All things Considered.” She has also filed for Public Radio International’s “The World,” American Public Media’s “Marketplace,” and various programs produced by the BBC and the CBC. She has also filed stories for Scientific American, Al Jazeera America and Arctic Deeply.