The Spokane Tribe is one step closer to receiving long-sought compensation for land lost to the Grand Coulee Dam over 60 years ago.
A Senate committee approved legislation Wednesday establishing a $53 million trust fund for the tribe that would be funded over several years. The deal is similar to an agreement reached with the Colville Tribe in 1994.
Senate Indian Affairs Committee Chairwoman Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., wrote the bill and was optimistic about its future.
“I’m hopeful that in this Congress this issue can finally be put to rest,” she said. “This bill will finally provide this tribe equitable compensation.”
When the dam was first constructed in 1942, it flooded 4,000 acres of the tribe’s land along the Columbia and Spokane rivers.
The Colville Tribe received a one-time payment of $53 million to compensate for its loss of land after Congress passed legislation in 1994 to provide the tribe a share of hydroelectric power revenue. Attempts by the Spokane Tribe to gain similar compensation have fizzled, with both chambers failing to act on two separate occasions in the last eight years.
The bill passed the Senate in 2004 but didn’t come up for a vote in the House. The House passed a similar bill in 2006, but it died in the Senate after Washington state objected to parts of the measure.
The Obama administration objected to a third attempt to pass the bill in 2012 after concerns that some language gave the tribe too much power.
The administration’s concerns were addressed by Cantwell and her staff, Assistant Secretary of the Interior Kevin Washburn said during a hearing on the bill in 2013.
He said the bill would provide justice to the tribe.
“The facts and history show that as a matter of equity the Spokane Tribe has a moral claim to receive compensation for its loss,” Washburn said.
The bill has yet to be scheduled for a floor vote in the Senate.