President Donald Trump at the White House on January 4, 2018. Photo: D. Myles Cullen / White House

President Trump signs second Indian bill into law to help tribes in Oregon

Less than a month after securing his first Indian legislative achievement, President Donald Trump has signed a second tribal bill into law.

H.R.1306, the Western Oregon Tribal Fairness Act, became law on Monday. Provisions in the package help the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians, the Confederated Tribes of Coos, Lower Umpqua, and Siuslaw Indians and the Coquille Tribe with issues affecting their homelands.

“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," Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Oregon), the sponsor of the bill, said in a press release. "This is a tremendous accomplishment for the Cow Creek Tribes, Coquille Tribes, and Confederated Tribes of the Coos, Lower Umpqua, and Siuslaw.”

The new law places about 17,519 acres in trust for the Cow Creek Band and about 14,472 acres in trust for the Confederated Tribes of Coos, Lower Umpqua, and Siuslaw Indians. It also addresses land management issues for the Coquille Tribe.

All three tribes were victims of familiar policies -- broken treaties, forced removals and termination of their federal status. While their government-to-government relationships were eventually restored by the United States, they had already lost all of their homelands by that time.

After being terminated in 1954, the Confederated Tribes of Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw Indians regained federal recognition in 1986. That's when leaders started focusing on efforts to restore their homelands, Chief Warren Brainard said.

Still, after decades of work, the tribe only has about 153 acres in trust. So H.R.1306 represents a significant achievement. “This is a lifetime accomplishment that I feel privileged to be a part of," Brainard said after H.R.1306 cleared its final legislative hurdle last month. "We did this for our people, for the success of seven generations and beyond.”

The Cow Creek Band also was terminated in 1954 and has been slowly rebuilding its land base since being restored to recognition in 1982. The new law nearly quadruples the tribe's current trust holdings.

"This law satisfies a century old promise and provides a permanent place for the tribes to call home," Chairman Dan Courtney said when H.R.1306 cleared Congress in December.

The Coquille Tribe, another 1954 termination victim, was restored to recognition in 1989. Several years later, Congress restored 5,400 acres to the tribe but placed the land under strict forest management conditions not applied to elsewhere in Indian Country.

H.R.1306 lifts the restriction, enabling the tribe to handle the Coquille Forest as it sees fit.

“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,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), who helped secure passage of the bill in the Senate, said in a press release.

The House passed H.R.1306 on July 11, 2017. The bill was considered under a suspension of the rules, a process typically used for non-controversial legislation.

The Senate followed up by passing H.R.1306 on December 21. It cleared the chamber by a voice vote, without any objections.

The bill was formally presented to President Trump on December 27. He signed it on Monday, three weeks after he signed H.R.228, the Indian Employment, Training and Related Services Consolidation Act, into law.

H.R.1306 and H.R.228 are the only two stand-alone Indian bills signed by the president since he took office a year ago this month.

A number of other measures are getting closer to clearing both chambers of Congress during its 115th session.

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