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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.


Steve was part of the Spokane Public Radio family for many years before he came on air in 1999. His wife, Laurie, produced Radio Ethiopia in the late 1980s through the '90s, and Steve used to “lurk in the shadowy world” of Weekend SPR. Steve has done various on air shifts at the station, including nearly 15 years as the local Morning Edition host. Currently, he is the voice of local weather and news during All Things Considerd, writing, editing, producing and/or delivering newscasts and features for both KPBX and KSFC. Aside from SPR, Steve ,who lives in the country, enjoys gardening, chickens, playing and listening to music, astronomy, photography, sports cars and camping.