Homeless tribe wants its land back

 

OREGON

It may be a long shot, but the Confederated Tribes of the Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw want 95,000 acres of national forest, an area larger than Portland, as compensation for land stolen over 150 years ago.

In 1855, the western Oregon tribes made a deal with the federal government: In exchange for 1.6 million acres of tribal land, the United States promised a new chunk of land and a large sum of money. Congress never came through on its end of the bargain.

"This is an issue of righting a wrong," says Francis W. Somday II, a tribal administrator for the nearly 700-member tribes. "Self-sufficiency has eluded those tribes in the U.S. who have no land base."

Somday says getting a piece of the Siuslaw National Forest returned could create jobs and income for impoverished tribal members. If the ancestral territory is transferred, the tribes vow to manage the forest under the federally mandated Northwest Forest Plan. That means they could log some trees in order to preserve old growth and make $1 million a year in profit.

While local environmentalists sympathize with the tribes' hardships, some say transferring this specific acreage is a bad idea. David Bayles of Pacific Rivers Council says this forest is a perfect candidate for restoring watersheds in order to save endangered salmon. According to Bayles, this will cost a lot of money and is not likely to generate the dollars desperately needed by the tribe.

Furthermore, it will take an act of Congress to transfer the land. Oregon congressmen say they won't carry a bill until the tribe proves there is local support. Although the tribe has held over 160 public meetings, Oregon's Democratic Rep. Peter DeFazio says he plans to shelve the issue until next year, since there is less than a month left in the legislative session.