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Spokane Tribe Celebrates Dam Compensation Agreement

Photo from Steve Jackson

The Spokane Tribe held a long-anticipated celebration Thursday at its reservation in Wellpinit. Members celebrated the passage of federal legislation that will finally compensate the tribe for losses incurred after Grand Coulee Dam was built.

The completion of the dam in 1941 meant the loss of homes as the Columbia River rose over its banks. The impact on the culture was just as dramatic. It meant the salmon, a very important staple and icon, would no longer be able to make it upstream to tribal lands.

It took decades to convince lawmakers that the tribe deserved to be compensated for its loss.

Senator Maria Cantwell thanked tribal Business Chair Carol Evans and others for assisting in the uphill battle to get justice.

“We had to fight the Department of Justice,  we had to fight the Department for interior, we had to fight staffers, we had to fight ignorance, but because of the Spokane Tribe’s leadership, justice has prevailed,” Cantwell said.

Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers said the bill to get the tribe compensation was the very first bill she worked on after she was sworn-in to congress in 2005.

95-year old tribal member Viola Frizzell, remembers when the dam began to flood tribal lands.

“I didn’t think I was going to make it, by gosh to live that long. But it’s kind of sad my friends never got to enjoy everything that’s going to be coming. But I'm happy for the younger people that will have school, and college funding I hope, something to go on," Frizzell said.

Evans says the annual compensation could bring the tribe $6 million a year in perpetuity.