Dam Indians: A Tribal Victory!

The flag of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Indian Reservation in Montana was raised over a hydroelectric facility on the Flathead River on September 4, 2015. The facility, formerly known as the Kerr Dam, was promptly renamed the Salish Kootenai Dam in honor of the new owners. For the past 30 years, the tribes have been battling to reclaim the dam which has a generating capacity of 188 megawatts of electricity.

At the celebration of the transfer, former tribal council member Steve Lozar said: “This day blesses all our tribal hearts collectively. It’s a combination of people of water that once again to rejoice and feel a true tribal baptism of water as it washes over us – and for that I am very thankful for. I am thankful for the people that has brought us this opportunity; for the tribal members that gave their lives to build this facility. And I’m mostly proud for the children that are once again going to be regenerated and rejuvenated by the water that washes over them.”



The history of the relationship of the federal government with Indian nations has generally focused on the transfer of wealth—land, mineral rights, etc.—from Indian people to non-Indians. For the Pend d’Oreille, Flathead, and Kootenai people this began in 1855 with the Hell Gate Treaty that transferred to the United States millions of acres of tribal land and established what would become the Flathead Indian Reservation.

In 1904 Montana Congressman Joseph Dixon secured the passage of the Flathead Allotment Act which called for the survey and allotment of the Montana reservation without the consent of the Indians. Under allotment, each Indian family was to be given a parcel of land and then the reservation was open to non-Indian settlement. Following allotment, the Indian agent, who favored allotment, needed an armed guard when traveling on the reservation.

To improve farming on the allotted Reservation, the government created the Flathead Indian Irrigation Project. As with most Indian irrigation projects, this project was soon delivering water to non-Indian farms. A national report on Indian irrigation projects released in 1929 showed that the number of acres of Indian land irrigated and used had declined, and that while the cost of constructing irrigation projects had been charged to the Indians, non-Indian farmers had been the primary beneficiaries of these projects.

In 1934, Congress passed the Indian Reorganization Act which allowed tribal governments to reorganize and to create federally chartered corporations which can borrow money, enter into contracts, and sue. Under this Act, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes came into existence.

The Dam:

 In 1927 the Commissioner of Indian Affairs met with representatives of the Montana Power Company to discuss the development of a hydroelectric site on the Flathead River south of Polson, Montana. An agreement was reached which gave Montana Power the right to generate power. The driving force behind the dam proposal was the need for electricity for copper mining activities in Butte and smelter activities in Anaconda. While the dam site is on the Flathead Reservation, no Indians were invited to the meeting.

The agreement was criticized by John Collier who maintained that it violated the 1855 treaty with the Flatheads. Collier also pointed out that the Federal Water Power Act of 1920 promised Indians all royalties from reservation lands and that the agreement with Montana Power only gave the Indians one-third of the royalties. Collier also questioned why the agreement gives non-Indian settlers on the reservation electricity at cost.

The proposed site for the dam was an important cultural resource for the tribes, but since all Indian religions were illegal at this time, the spiritual concerns of tribal elders were not considered. Many tribal members opposed the construction of the dam.

Construction of the dam began in 1930 and by 1939 the facility was producing power. The new dam was named for Frank Kerr, the president of Montana Power. Kerr dam is a concrete arch dam which controls the elevation of the top ten feet of Flathead Lake. Fourteen tribal members were killed in construction-related accidents during the building of the dam.

In 1985 the dam’s license came up for renewal and the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT) bid for the license. As a result, CSKT became a co-licensee with Montana Power Company. During the negotiations, the tribes agreed to take a reduced payment for the use and occupancy of the dam site in exchange for an exclusive option to acquire the dam in 2015.

To take over the operation of the dam, the tribes created a tribally owned corporation, Energy Keepers, Inc., under the Indian Reorganization Act.

Republican Response:

Montana Republicans are not happy about having a tribally-run hydroelectric facility. In an attempt to stop the takeover, state Senator. Bob Keenan and Flathead Conservation District Supervisor Verdell Jackson filed a complaint seeking a temporary injunction. The Missoula Independent reports: “In the kind of sleuthing worthy of a Tom Clancy novel, Keenan and Jackson drew a direct connection between Turkey’s work to help foster economic development in Indian Country and Turkey’s harboring of terrorist groups.”

According to the complaint, the Turkish government is seeking to promote Islam on Indian reservation as well as other dangerous activities, such as seeking access to uranium deposits. The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes have expertise in uranium mill tailing cleanups and the lawsuit claims that the tribes are too gullible or naïve to realize that the Turks may have terrorist ties. Turkey, by the way, is a U.S. ally and a member of NATO.

According to the Missoula Independent: “While the case was quickly thrown out, one might begin to suspect Keenan and Jackson have something against the Salish and Kootenai people, or against the federal government that approved CSKT’s intent to purchase Kerr Dam three decades ago. But then again, such theories seem a little too grounded and devoid of conspiratorial intrigue for their ilk.”


Dam Indians: The Dalles Dam

Columbia River map

For thousands of years the 1,242-mile-long Columbia River has been central to the lives of the Indian people of the Columbia Plateau region. The river functioned as a superhighway facilitating trade from the Pacific to the Rocky Mountains. The river was also their supermarket providing abundant fish to support the Indian lifestyle. And finally, the river was an important part of Indian spirituality.  

Celilo Falls

Shown above was the Indian fishery at Celilo Falls.

During the nineteenth century there was a flow of Europeans, beginning with Lewis and Clark, who used the river as their highway. By the twentieth century, the Americans, who now claimed ownership of the river, looked at it in a different light. Obsessed with the idea of controlling and changing the natural environment, the Americans almost seemed to worship dams. They saw them as monuments to their engineering skills and to their manifest destiny to control nature. The dams also generated electricity which helped the growth of American businesses and contributed to the wealth of the business owners.

The Bonneville Dam (1937) was the first of 31 federal dams built on the Columbia River and its tributaries. The dams were built for power, irrigation, and to prevent flooding. There was little, if any, concern for the impact of these dams on the economic, social, cultural, and spiritual lives of the many Indian nations located along the river.

Congress authorized the construction of The Dalles Dam in 1950. No input from the Indians whose lives would be negatively impacted by the dam was sought by Congress. While the loss of fishing caused by the dam was deplored, it was felt that the commercial interests of irrigation, power, and shipping outweighed the fish. With regard to the Indians, Congress noted:

“Alternative fishing sites to replace those inundated must be established-by artificial means if necessary, or the Indians paid just compensation for the sites taken.”

The dam was to be constructed by the Army Corps of Engineers, an agency not known for its concern for or its empathy with American Indians.

In 1951, a Yakama tribal delegation-Thomas Yallup, Alex Saluskin, Gealge Seelatsee, and Watson Totus-testified before a Congressional committee about the importance of Celilo Falls on the Columbia River and the impact which the proposed The Dalles Dam would have on their people. When Thomas Yallup testified that Celilo Falls were sacred, he was asked why some other river wouldn’t work as well. Yallup replied:

“The Christian people of the States of Oregon and Washington have recognized our holding the [salmon] ceremony for each year, and throughout the country I believe that the other religions, including the Christian religion, have also backed us up in asking the Government not to take a sacred place, a place that is held sacred by the Indians.”

The Commissioner of Indian Affairs indicated that the Bureau of Indian Affairs would not oppose the construction of The Dalles dam because of the urgent national defense need for power brought on by the Korean War and the Cold War.

With regard to the impact of The Dalles Dam and the loss of Celilo Falls on the salmon in the Columbia River, the regional director of the federal Bureau of Commercial Fisheries stated:

“The Indian commercial fishery would be eliminated and more fish would reach the spawning grounds in better condition.”

The director’s opinion reflects the popular non-Indian belief that if Indian fishing were to be eliminated on the Columbia River, then there would be abundant fish for non-Indian sport fishing. It is estimated that only 10% of the salmon caught in the Columbia at this time were caught by Indians.

In 1952, the U.S. House of Representatives denied funding of The Dalles Dam on the Columbia River until the Army Corps of Engineers began negotiations with the Indians who would be impacted by the dam. Shortly afterwards, representatives from the Corps met with the Umatilla and Warm Springs tribes.

The Army Corps of Engineers was concerned with documenting and measuring the economic value of Indian fishing. The primary questions for which they sought answers were: Which Indians were fishing at Celilo? Did they have a treaty-supported right to the sites? How many fish did Indians catch to sell commercially? How many fish did they take for subsistence use? What did fish buyers and tourists pay for their fish? The answers to these questions would enable the Corps to determine the monetary value of the fishery. The Corps did not consider the cultural value of Celilo Falls or its historic and spiritual meaning to Indian people.

In 1952, the Army Corps of Engineers compiled a special report on the Indian fishery problem regarding the construction of The Dalles Dam. With regard to the desires of the Indians, the Corps reports: (1) the Indians do want The Dalles dam built, (2) if the dam is built, they want full compensation for their losses, (3) they would prefer in-lieu sites rather than monetary compensation, (4) they do not want the matter settled in the court system, (5) they would prefer a settlement prior to the construction of the dam, and (6) they do not want to give up their fishing rights.

In 1952, the Umatilla and the Warm Springs tribes accepted a settlement drafted by the Army Corps of Engineers regarding their losses from the construction of the proposed The Dalles Dam. The Warm Springs tribes accepted the settlement under protest. Both tribes relinquished the right to sue the federal government for further compensation. The settlement came to about $3,700 per enrolled tribal member.

In 1952, the members of the Warm Springs tribes reluctantly signed a contract with the Army Corps of Engineers to cover the damages to the Celilo fishery on the Columbia River which the people suffered as a result of The Dalles Dam. After the deduction of attorney fees and other costs, each member was to receive $145.50. There was no mention of the loss of the fisheries at the Five Mile Rapids and the Spearfish fisheries.

In 1953, Chief Tommy Thompson of the River Indians at Celilo Falls found that Skuch-pa, a sacred stone, was missing. The stone is four feet across and six feet tall and had been used traditionally for ensuring good weather during fishing. Initially it was reported that it had been was removed by the Army Corps of Engineers as a part of its work preparing for The Dalles Dam, but then the Indians found out that a non-Indian had removed it and placed it on his property.

In 1954, the Army Corps of Engineers planned to purchase the Indian homes which would be flooded by The Dalles dam on the Columbia River. However, the Corps had no intention of relocating the displaced residents. The Corps felt that it had only a legal responsibility for paying the Indians the appraised value of their homes and their fish drying shed. This was usually a meager amount that would not cover the cost of an acceptable replacement.

In 1955, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers published a report documenting that the Nez Perce had no legal claim to fishing sites at Celilo Falls on the Columbia River. The Corps invested a great deal of labor and money to avoid compensating the Nez Perce for their claims to the Celilo fishery. The Army Corps of Engineers met with the Nez Perce for two days to discuss their claims. The Corps then recommended an end to negotiations citing Nez Perce intransigence. As long as the Nez Perce insisted that they had traditionally fished at Celilo Falls and would not accept the Army Corps of Engineers version of Nez Perce history and tradition, then the Corps felt that negotiations were meaningless.

The gates of The Dalles Dam closed in 1957 and the waters of the Columbia River began rising to flood traditional Indian fishing sites, sacred areas, burial sites, and homes. Many Indians stood on the shore openly weeping as the river stopped flowing and began to rise. Celilo Falls, an important resource and spiritual site, disappeared beneath the rising waters. For more than 10,000 years the people had fished in the area between Celilo Falls and Threemile Rapids. The rising waters of the Columbia displaced some of the oldest continuously inhabited village sites in North America. Archaeological sites which had never been studied were destroyed.  

The Dalles Dam

The Confederated Warm Springs Tribes received $4 million in indemnity and the Yakama received $15 million. Many non-Indians believed that this money had bought the tribes’ fishing rights, but this was not the intent of the settlement.

In 1958, the salmon runs on the Columbia River plummeted following the completion of The Dalles Dam. The states of Oregon and Washington were determined to conserve the remaining fish, supplementing them with hatchery stocks, for the non-Indian commercial and sports fishers. The number of days for commercial fishing was reduced. The states argued that Indians could only sell the fish they caught during these same days and that they should be limited to selling only those caught with the traditional dip nets.

In 1958, the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) declared that all of the permanent residents of old Celilo Village in Oregon had been provided with comfortable homes at various places up and down the river and elsewhere. However, under the BIA rules only a small portion of the Indians who considered Celilo Village to be their home actually qualified as “permanent” residents. Part of the old village was given by the BIA to the state of Oregon to be used as a public park. The BIA had no concern for the possible Indian use of this land.


In 1959, Vice-President Richard Nixon pushed the button which started the generation of hydroelectricity at The Dalles Dam on the Columbia River. Senator Richard Neuberger reminded people that

“our Indian friends deserve from us a profound and heartfelt salute of appreciation…They contributed to its erection a great donation-surrender of the only way of life which some of them knew.”

In other words, once again wealth was being transferred from Indians, the poorest people in the country, to wealthy non-Indians. With the construction of The Dalles Dam, Indian people-the Yakama, Warm Springs, Nez Perce, Umatilla, and others-lost an important cultural and economic center which had served them for thousands of years.

In 1959, Chief Tommy Thompson died at more than 100 years of age (some estimated that he was 104). His funeral held at the Celilo longhouse drew more than 1,000 people, both Indian and non-Indian. They came to pay their respects to this well-known leader who had defended Native fishing rights and who had vigorously opposed The Dalles Dam. His leadership of the River Indians who fished at Celilo Falls on the Columbia River had lasted for more than 80 years.

Dam Indians: Yellowtail Dam

In 1967 the Yellowtail Dam on the Bighorn River was completed in the traditional territory of the Crow Indians in Montana. The dam was named after Robert Yellowtail, a prominent Crow tribal member. The construction of this dam stands as a symbol of the arrogance of the United States government and the total disregard of the rights of Indian people by the governmental agency which is supposed to protect those rights.  

The Crow:

The Crow were once a part of an ancestral tribe which included the Hidatsa which lived in the eastern woodlands. Archaeologists suggest that the Crow moved out onto the Great Plains of Montana and Wyoming in two migrations. The Mountain Crow moved out first, sometime in the 1500s. Then a century later, the River Crow followed them. Crow historian and elder Joseph Medicine Crow describes the migrations this way:

“Way back in the 1500s, what might be called our ancestral tribe, lived east of the Mississippi in a land of forests and lakes, possibly present day Wisconsin. They began migrating westward around 1580 until they crossed the Mississippi to follow the buffalo. As far as the Crows are concerned, they separated from this main band in about 1600-1625.”

By the time the first Americans began to enter into Crow territory in the early 1800s, there were three separate and distinct groups. The two largest groups were the River Crow who ranged north of the Yellowstone River and the Mountain Crow who lived south of the Yellowstone and farther west. The third group, the Kicked-in-the-Bellies (also known as Home-Away-from-the-Center), lived in the same area as the Mountain Crow.

The name Kicked-in-the-Bellies came from an incident when the Crow first encountered horses and one of them was kicked by a colt.


A nineteenth century painting of Crow Indians is shown above.

The Crow Treaties:

The United States Supreme Court has interpreted the Constitution as meaning that Indian tribes are domestic dependent nations. Thus, in dealing with Indian tribes as sovereign nations, the United States negotiated treaties (i.e. international agreements) with them.

The first treaty signed by the Crow was in 1851 at the Fort Laramie Treaty Council. The purpose of the council and of the resulting treaty was to establish peace between the United States and the tribes, including a promise to protect Indians from European-Americans, and to stop the tribes from making war with one another. At the Fort Laramie Treaty Council, an area or territory for each tribe was defined. As there were no River Crow at the Council, the Mountain Crow version of their geographic rights and hunting areas was used and it was assumed by the Americans to be binding to all of the Crow tribes.

In 1864, Congress passed the Organic Act which organized the Territory of Montana. Section 1 of the act states:

“That nothing in this act contained shall be construed to impair the rights of person or property now pertaining to the Indians in said territory so long as such rights remain unextinguished by treaty between the United States and such Indians…”

Sidney Edgerton was appointed as territorial governor and ex-officio superintendent of Indian Affairs. The new territorial governor said:

“I trust that the Government will, at an early day, take steps for the extinguishment of the Indian title in this territory, in order that our lands may be brought into market.”

One of the first actions of the newly formed Montana Territorial Assembly was to pass a resolution calling for the expropriation of all Crow lands. The acting governor attempted to negotiate a treaty in which the Crow would give up all of their lands in the new Montana Territory. An attempt to invite the Crow leaders to a treaty council failed when runners failed to locate any of the Crow tribes.

In 1867, two of the Crow tribes-the Mountain Crow and the Kicked-in-the-Bellies-once again met with American treaty negotiators at Fort Laramie. The Americans told the Crow leader:

“We wish to separate a part of your territory for your nation where you may live forever.”

The Americans promise that non-Indians will not be allowed to settle on Crow lands. The principal Crow speaker was Blackfoot who reminded the commission of the promises made to them in 1851, but which were never kept by the Americans. He shouts at them:

“We are not slaves; we are not dogs!”

Bear’s Tooth reminded the Americans:

“your  young men have devastated the country and killed my animals, the elk, the deer, the antelope, my buffalo. They do not kill them to eat them; they leave them to rot where they fall.”

In 1868, the Mountain Crow, the Kicked-in-the-Bellies, and the Americans again met in council. The River Crow were not present. The Americans proposed a drastic reduction in the Crow tribal area which was established in 1851: from 38.5 million acres to 8 million acres. All of the Crow lands in the new state of Wyoming were to be ceded to the United States. Crow leader Blackfoot (Sits in the Middle of the Land) and ten others signed the treaty. The Crow leaders assumed that the United States would negotiate a separate treaty with the River Crow.

Two months after signing the treaty with the Mountain Crow and the Kicked-in-the-Bellies, the River Crow sign their own treaty with the United States. However, this treaty was buried and forgotten by Congress and was never voted on. Consequently, the treaty with the Mountain Crow and the Kicked in the Bellies was considered by the government to be the Crow treaty and the River Crow became invisible to the government.

In 1934, American Indian policy changed dramatically with the passage of the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA). Under the IRA, tribes could decide to reorganize their tribal governments and adopt constitutions. The Crow, however, rejected reorganization under the IRA. In 1948, the Crow wrote their own constitution which established a general council in which every adult member of the tribe is a council member and is entitled to vote in council meetings.

The Dam:

American Indian policy in the United States is administered by the Bureau of Indian Affairs which is a part of the Department of the Interior. Ultimately, the person responsible for Indian affairs is the Secretary of the Interior. While the Department of the Interior may have a trust responsibility with regard to Indian tribes, its primary focus has been (and some feel still is) administering Indian resources in the best interest of non-Indian commercial entities.

In 1951, the Department of the Interior offered the Crow $1.5 million for the Yellowtail Dam site. The Crow rejected the offer. Undaunted by the Crow refusal to sell the site, private interest groups, such as the Big Horn County Chamber of Commerce, Montana’s Congressional delegation, and the Department of the Interior continued to seek support for the dam.

In 1955, the Department of the Interior began a condemnation suit to acquire the Yellowtail Dam site from the Crow. While the Crow had rejected an earlier offer of $1.5 million for the site, the Department of the Interior felt that it had a legal right to the land and intended to pay them only $50,000 for it. The Crow tribal council asked for a lease of $1 million per year for 50 years.

In 1956, under intense pressure from both the Department of the Interior and Montana’s Congressional delegation, the Crow voted to sell the Yellowtail Dam site for $5 million. The vote took place after a 13-hour meeting and passed by less than 60 votes.

The Department of the Interior rejected the Crow offer and seemed committed to condemning the land. The Crow met and discussed the issue for two more weeks. The result was a resolution that still asked for $5 million. Congress accepted the $5 million offer, but President Dwight Eisenhower vetoed it.

In 1957, the Crow, angered by the rejection of their $5 million offer for the Yellowtail Dam site, rescinded the offer and replaced it with a proposal calling for a lease of $1 million per year for 50 years. The Crow were warned by the government and by private individuals that they had no chance of winning in court and that they would probably only get $15,000 to $35,000 for the site. Under pressure, the Crow returned to their original $5 million offer.

In Congress, the $5 million was reduced to $2.5 million plus the right to sue in court for additional compensation.  This was the final settlement with Congress dictating the amount rather than negotiating.

The debate over Yellowtail dam divided the Crow: the Mountain Crow opposed the dam, and the River Crow supported the dam. Robert Yellowtail, an outspoken critic of the Bureau of Indian Affairs was one of the main opponents of the dam and protested the decision to sell the dam site to the government.

Yellowtail Dam

Yellowtail Dam is shown above.

Dam Indians: Bonneville Dam

( – promoted by navajo)

While the Army Corps of Engineers had proposed a series of dams on the Columbia River in 1929, no action was taken on this proposal until the advent of President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. Work on the Bonneville Dam, located 40 miles east of Portland, began in 1934 and provided much-needed employment for thousands of people. The dam was completed in 1937 and began generating commercial power in 1938. With the emphasis on the economic gains, there was little or no consideration given to the impact of the dam on the Columbia River Indians.  

Bonneville 1

Construction of the dam destroyed the homes of living Indians as well as those of the dead. The Wasco village of Chief Banaha was used as the north anchor for the dam, and Bradford Island, an ancient Indian burial ground, served as its central anchor. The human remains dug up on the island were reburied by the Army Corps of Engineers in a single grave on the north shore about five miles east of the dam.

The dam is named for army captain Benjamin Bonneville who explored the Columbia River in the 1830s.

In 1937, the superintendent for the Umatilla Reservation wrote to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs expressing concern that Bonneville Dam would flood many fishing places guaranteed to the Indians by treaty. He suggested that the Indians might have a claim to compensation. In response, the acting solicitor for the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) wrote a legal analysis of the problem. He concluded that the Indians had a possible claim for compensation of the destruction of their fishing places. He suggested that the BIA negotiate a settlement with the Army Corps of Engineers and the Public Works Administration (the dam’s source of funding). In the report, the solicitor noted that the Supreme Court had ruled that fishing was not a right granted to the Indians, but an aboriginal right which the Indians had specifically retained in their treaties.

In order to document the loss of Indian fishing sites caused by the Bonneville Dam, a BIA attorney toured the Indian fishing sites on the Columbia River.  Elders named the sites and the attorney meticulously marked them on the map. In addition, a BIA photographer took a photo of each site so that the changes to the site could be recorded as the reservoir filled. The Indians pointed out 27 fishing sites. The following year, the BIA returned to photograph the fishing sites which had been flooded by Bonneville Dam. The photographer found only an expanse of calm water. The sites had been flooded.

In 1938, concerned about the loss of Indian fishing sites due to the construction of Bonneville Dam, John Herrick, the assistant to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, wrote to the Army Corps of Engineers division engineer recommending that the Army buy land and construct improvements for Indian fishing stations. He suggested a meeting with the BIA and the Corps and noted:

“Later, or course, it will be necessary to bring representatives of the Indian tribes involved into the discussion….During your talks, you can decide at what point the representatives of the Indians should be brought into the picture”

Col. John C.H. Lee of the Army Corps of Engineers insisted that the War Department take no action until the tribes submitted a claim in writing. The Corps and the BIA basically agreed the claim would place no monetary value on the damage. In addition, the claim should include a request for a conference between the Army and the Indians, with the reservation superintendents included.

The following year representatives from the Warm Springs, Umatilla, and Yakama tribes met with the BIA at The Dalles, Oregon to discuss damages to fishing sites caused by the Bonneville Dam. The tribes then met with the Army Corps of Engineers.   During the day-long meeting, little progress was made toward an agreement. The tribal cultures stressed the need for consensus in reaching a decision rather than a command from the top. On the other hand, the Army Corps officers, bound to the Army’s strict military command structure, could not comprehend the Indians’ way.

Two dozen traditional fishing sites would be destroyed and the Army Corps of Engineers promised to provide the Indians with six sites totaling 400 acres. Over the next 40 years, the Army Corps of Engineers actually provided only five sites and a total of 40 acres.

In 1941, the Army Corps of Engineers proposed a four-acre site along the Columbia River as an in-lieu site for the Indian fishing sites lost through the construction of Bonneville Dam. Lt. Col. C. R. Moore of the Army Corps of Engineers indicated that Indians had no say in this arrangement since they were wards of the government.

In 1947, the only in-lieu fishing site provided by the Army Corps of Engineers to make up for two dozen sites lost through the construction of Bonneville Dam was blocked by a non-Indian logger. The logger had constructed a road through the Indian housing area and was dumping logs into the White Salmon River, blocking Indian access. The Corps ordered the logging company to move, but it refused. The Corps then turned the matter over to the United States attorney for Western Washington who filed suit against the company for illegally building on government property and obstructing a navigable stream. The loggers stayed at the site.

In 1952, the Army Corps of Engineers stopped all improvement work on in-lieu fishing sites. The Corps took the position that the $50,000 appropriated by Congress in 1945 for the in-lieu sites was for land purchases only and that no improvements can be made until all of the land is purchased.

The Indians from the Mid-Columbia tribes continued to pressure the Army Corps of Engineers to obtain for them the in-lieu fishing sites which had been promised when Bonneville dam destroyed their traditional fishing sites. In 1953, the Corps found what they felt would be an ideal site at Cascade Locks. There were government buildings on the property which included sanitary facilities and the area was a part of what had been a major tribal fishing area until the construction of the Cascade Locks in the nineteenth century. Opposition to the proposed in-lieu site came from a group calling themselves the Cascade Locks Citizens Committee. The group denied that they were motivated by racial discrimination, but argued that Indians, unlike industry, would bring neither new taxable wealth nor jobs.  They complained that the area selected was man-made and that the Indians had never fished in it. They were apparently unaware that the first full-scale report on Indian fishing listed the Cascade Locks as a major Indian fishing site. Freshman Republican congressman Samuel H. Coon, a staunch advocate of private power, intervened and as a result the Corps sold the land to the Port of Cascade Locks.

In 1954, the director of the Washington state department of Fisheries considered closing all commercial fishing at the Indian in-lieu sites,  He stated that the Indians did not have any special fishing rights at these sites and that the state has the right to control fishing and enforce its regulations against Indian violators.

At the same time, the Oregon Fish Commission conceded that Indians had treaty-protected fishing rights at their usual and accustomed places, but these rights might not apply to other locations, such as in the in-lieu sites. The chairman of the commission states:

“We formally protest the granting of these sites to the tribes for it is our belief that the major use to which they can be put is that of fishing and fishing is a threat to the continuance of the salmon runs.”

In 1955 Congress provided the Army Corps of Engineers with an additional $185,000 for the purchase of in-lieu fishing sites as promised when Bonneville Dam was built. In addition, the money was to be used for building sanitary and other facilities. The additional funding was opposed by the Oregon Fish Commission. As the bill was working its way through Congress, the Army Corps of Engineers turned down a number of offers to obtain land for the in-lieu sites saying it didn’t need any more land. In fact, the Corps still owed the Indians two more sites and an additional 300 acres of land.

In 1959, the Army Corps of Engineers told Congress that it could do no more work on the in-lieu fishing sites. The Corps asked for a release from further efforts. Initially, the Corps had promised the Indians six in-lieu sites totaling 400 acres and in the twenty years since the promise had been made, it had actually provided them with four sites and a total of 40 acres.

In Oregon and Washington, the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) issued new rules in 1969 regarding the in-lieu fishing sites along the Columbia River. Under the new rules, permanent dwellings were banned on the sites and only campers, trailers, tents, and tipis were allowed. Any structures left on the sites were to be demolished by the BIA. The Indians protested the new rules and reminded the BIA that they had lived permanently at the sites which had been flooded by Bonneville Dam. In response the BIA asked the solicitor for the Department of the Interior for an opinion on the ban and was informed that the ban was legal. According to the solicitor, the Indians’ off-reservation rights were limited to taking fish and erecting temporary buildings for curing them.

In 1970 the Corps of Engineers proposed raising the level of the Bonneville Dam pool by three feet to help meet the need for more electricity. The proposal would flood many of the Indian in-lieu fishing sites. Two years later, the Columbia River tribes learned about the proposal. The Indians responded with fear and anger. In one meeting, the attorney for the Native American Rights Fund stated:

“The Corps is becoming the cavalry of the twentieth century, driving the Indians literally into the river.”

The Umatilla tribes filed a suit asking that the Corps be barred from raising the pool. Judge Robert C. Belloni granted a temporary injunction and told the Corps and the tribes to negotiate. While the Corps of Engineers was planning a project to destroy the in-lieu fishing sites, the BIA was trying to improve them.

Congress finally stepped in again and in 1988 passed a bill which required the Army Corps of Engineers to provide in-lieu fishing sites on the Columbia River to total 360 acres (thus meeting the original promise made to the Indians.) Under the provisions of the bill, the Corps was to improve all in-lieu fishing sites, both new and old, to National Park Service standards for improved campgrounds. The Corps was to acquire at least six sites adjacent to the Bonneville pool.

The following year, the Columbia River tribes put together a task force composed of leading elders to deal with the Army Corps of Engineers in identifying and obtaining in-lieu fishing sites as mandated by Congress. The Corps, on the other hand, simply assigned a park ranger to the task force. The ranger admitted that he knew nothing about the issue and that he had no authority to speak for the Corps. The tribes asked for the Corps to assign someone with authority to the task force. The Corps then assigned a civilian planner to the force. One tribal attorney would later recall:

“We had to tell them the history of the legislation and the background over and over again.”

One of the concerns of the tribes was the sensitive handling of human remains, funerary objects, and other cultural artifacts. Many Indians were bitter about the way in which state and federal governments treated Indian graves. In 1991, the tribes initiated discussions with the Army Corps of Engineers regarding the management of cultural resources at the proposed in-lieu fishing sites. The following year, the Army Corps of Engineers issued a draft proposal on dealing with cultural resources on the in-lieu fishing sites. The tribes found the proposal unacceptable as it failed to comply with either federal historic preservation requirements or the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.

By 1993, the Columbia River tribes were frustrated with the lack of action on the in-lieu fishing sites and so tribal leaders went to Washington, D.C.  Unannounced they arrived at the Army Corps of Engineers headquarters and told the receptionist that they were there to meet with high-ranking officials. They were ushered in to a meeting in progress about other issues. Assuming that they were part of the agenda, they were seated at the table. For an hour and a half the tribal leaders lectured startled Army brass on Indian treaties and the Corps’ responsibilities under those treaties and the law. While the Corps officers were impressed, they did not take any action.

Bonneville 2