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Bill would deliver promised lands to Cow Creek tribe

A congressional committee last week approved a bill that would return 17,519 acres of land to the Cow Creek Umpqua Tribe.

The Western Oregon Tribal Fairness Act, H.R. 2791, unanimously passed through the House Natural Resources Committee. The bill was sponsored by Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Springfield. A similar bill was passed by the House last year but was derailed in the Senate.

Cow Creek Tribal CEO Michael Rondeau said the land was promised to the tribe more than 150 years ago.

“It’s all land that was put into our 1853 treaty and just never materialized,” Rondeau said.

The land includes scattered, mostly forested sites in south Douglas County owned by the Bureau of Land Management.

The tribe wants to show its management techniques, restoring some areas and harvesting others, bringing balance to forest management, Rondeau said. The land includes areas important to the history of the tribe’s families and its culture.

“Most all of it has some tie to some of our tribal families somehow, so it’s pretty significant that the family names have prevailed and carried on and will be receiving those (lands) back into the tribe.

“I don’t want to jinx myself, but I am very hopeful,” Rondeau said.

The tribe is considered a landless tribe because it received none of its promised reservation lands. It has purchased about 5,000 acres of mostly agricultural land.

Cow Creek Umpqua Tribal Chairman Dan Courtney issued a statement saying the tribe applauds the Natural Resources Committee for supporting the bill and thanking Rep. DeFazio for his support.

“This bill restores our tribe’s dream of self-sufficiency, regional development and environmental stewardship on our ancestral homeland.... Today, from every Cow Creek member, we say Tuuwuù’k,” Courtney said. Tuuwuù’k means “It is good.”

The 1853 treaty contained an unfulfilled promise of a temporary reservation on what is now Oregon & California Railroad Trust land. The land that would go to the tribe is mostly second-growth timber on BLM land that was logged in the mid-1970s.

It was originally promised as a reservation in exchange for the tribe ceding 448,000 acres of its ancestral home. At the time, tribal members also received 18 hickory shirts, pants, shoes and hats, three coats, vests, neckerchiefs and three pairs of socks, along with a couple hundred yards of fabric, 12 dozen buttons, two pounds of thread, 10 needles, seed potatoes, a fenced and plowed field and two houses.

The bill would also set aside 14,408 acres of reservation land for the Confederated Tribes of the Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw Indians and restore the Coquille Indian Tribe’s sovereignty over the Coquille Forest.

“This is a major step toward long-overdue restoration for three of Oregon’s distinguished tribes,” DeFazio said in a written statement. “My bill will promote job creation and economic growth for the Coos and Cow Creek Tribes and provide the same land management rights to the Coquille Tribe that every other federally recognized tribe in the United States already enjoys.”