Cantwell, Murray Bill to Provide Compensation for Spokane Tribe Passes Committee

WASHINGTON, D.C.  – Today, the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs passed legislation by U.S. Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Patty Murray (D-WA) that will provide the Spokane Tribe with fair compensation for the past and continued use of Tribal lands by the U.S. federal government for the production of hydroelectric power generation by the Grand Coulee Dam. The Spokane Reservation Equitable Compensation Act passed the Committee by unanimous voice vote and now heads to the full Senate.

“As a result of the construction of the Grand Coulee Dam in the 1930s, thousands of acres of Spokane Tribal lands were flooded. The Dam disrupted their habitat and their livelihood, requiring them to alter their way of living. These lands are also a significant spiritual and cultural value to the Spokane people. After more than 60 years, it’s time the Spokane Tribe get just and equitable compensation,” said Senator Cantwell, who is a senior member of the Indian Affairs Committee.

“While there’s still much work to be done, today’s vote to provide fair compensation to the Spokane Tribe is an important step toward ensuring the federal government is honoring its commitments to tribes in Washington state,” said Senator Murray. “Strengthening our partnership with Washington state’s indigenous communities is critical to countless families who rely on the energy provided through use of tribal lands, and as a voice for our state I will continue working with champions like Senator Cantwell to get this vital legislation across the finish line.”

Specifically, the Spokane Reservation Equitable Compensation Act (S.995) would authorize ongoing annual payments to the Tribe from the revenues of hydropower generated by the dam for continued use of Tribal lands. The bill also included an amendment from Senator Cantwell that reduces the overall cost of the legislation, which has the support of the Spokane Tribe.

“The Spokane Tribe’s life, culture, economy and religion center around the rivers that were wrongfully impacted with the construction of the Grand Coulee Dam. The [Spokane Tribe of Indians Business Council] hopes that with removing this roadblock, this legislation will be passed within this Congress,” said Carol Evans, Chairman of the Spokane Tribe of Indians, in a letter supporting the legislation.

During the business hearing, Senator Cantwell submitted for the record the Spokane Tribe letter of support as well as three additional letters of support for the legislation, including letters from Stevens and Lincoln Counties and the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA). The BPA letter states that the annual payments to the Tribe would not result in perceptible rate impacts to customers.

For more than 15 years, Senators Cantwell and Murray have led the fight to ensure the Spokane Tribe is provided equitable compensation from the lands taken by the United States government as part of the Grand Coulee Dam development project in the 1930s and 1940s. As the largest hydroelectric plant in the United States, the Grand Coulee Dam has been producing electricity for towns and cities across the western United States for the last 75 years.

However, since construction of the dam, the Spokane Tribe has yet to be compensated for the significant damages to its Tribal lands and livelihoods. The Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, whose land was also flooded by the Grand Coulee Dam project, has been receiving annual compensation payments for the use of their property since a congressionally authorized settlement in 1994.