Our relationships with tribal nations

The United States government has a unique legal relationship with Indian tribes, defined by treaties, statutes, executive orders, court decisions and the U.S. Constitution itself. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers interacts with tribes on a government-to-government level within this framework.

Indian tribes are considered independent nations according to U.S. law and court decisions and must be dealt with by the U.S. government, including the Corps of Engineers, in the same way we would deal with any other nation.

The U.S. entered into treaties with the original citizens of the Columbia River Basin in 1854 and 1855. During treaty negotiations, the tribes reserved certain rights for themselves, particularly regarding fishing. The Corps of Engineers has a responsibility to uphold those rights and treaty provisions.

Mission and guiding principles

We coordinate, consult, and work with tribes on a multitude of projects and issues. Cultural resources management and protection, fish and wildlife conservation and restoration, access to sacred sites, water resource development, flood damage reduction, permitting actions and environmental restoration are just some of the areas in which the Corps consults, or works directly in partnership with tribes.

In undertaking any action which may impact tribal rights or interests, the Corps is guided by the following six principles:

  1. Recognition of Tribal Sovereignty
  2. Fulfillment of Federal Trust Responsibilities to Tribes
  3. Interaction on a Government-to-Government Basis
  4. Pre-Decisional, Open, and Honest Consultation
  5. Support for Tribal Self Reliance, Capacity Building, and Growth
  6. Preservation and Protection of Natural and Cultural Resources

Cultural resources

Cultural resources represent a partial record of thousands of years of human occupation, adaptations and use of the land and its resource potentials.

Most often, cultural resources refer to definite, physical places that can be identified and located by the presence of artifacts or other material evidence, such as a prehistoric village site or a 19th Century pioneer townsite. In a broader sense, the term also applies to abstract values and ideas. For example, a mountain considered to be sacred or plant with ritual uses would have special meaning to a tribal group, and therefore, as a traditional cultural property, are considered cultural resources.

Cultural resources are recognized as fragile, irreplaceable resources with potential public and scientific uses, representing an important and integral part of the nation's heritage. In order to meet its legal responsibilities, this agency inventories, evaluates, uses, protects, preserves and interprets significant cultural resources with review and advice from the State Historic Preservation Office, appropriate Native American Tribal Governments and the President's Advisory Council on Historic Preservation. These latter two are not regulatory bodies, but advisory only.


Repatriation and reburial of Native American human remains and cultural objects

The 1990 Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) allows for the disposition and repatriation of Native American human remains and certain cultural items to culturally affiliated Indian tribes. The NAGPRA plan outlines roles and responsibilities and establishes forms to track compliance status.
Section 208 of the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2000 gives the Corps authority to set aside areas at civil works projects to rebury Native American remains at government expense.  The plan provides consistent practices for establishing new reburial areas and formalizes those areas which have already been used by the tribes for the burial of human remains.


Columbia River Treaty Fishing Access Sites

History of the Columbia River Treaty Fishing Access Sites

Native American people have fished, gathered, hunted and lived on the Columbia River for thousands of years.  The Nez Perce, Umatilla, Yakama and Warm Springs tribes negotiated treaties with the United States government in 1855, ceding most of their lands but reserving the right to fish forever at “all usual and accustomed fishing places ...”  In 1905 and again in 1919, the United States Supreme Court upheld these fishing rights and the Native Americans’ rights of access to these Columbia River sites.

However, the construction of Bonneville Dam in 1933 inundated about 40 Native American fishing sites from the dam site to The Dalles, Ore.  A 1939 agreement called for the government to acquire and improve sites to serve as “in-lieu” fishing sites.  Five tracts totaling 40 acres were purchased for the use and benefit of the Native Americans.


Current Columbia River Treaty Fishing Access Sites

Public Law 100-581 in 1988 directed the Corps to acquire and improve 23 specified sites along the Columbia River.  In addition, the law directed the Corps to acquire and develop additional sites on the Bonneville Pool for treaty fishing use, and to improve the in-lieu sites.  The legislation specifies improvements to be provided such as boat ramps and docks, and sanitary and camping facilities.

In total, The Columbia River Treaty Fishing Access Sites program includes 20 fishing access sites, six acquisition sites and five in-lieu sites.  To date, the Corps has completed and improved 29 sites.  Of these sites, four remain in Corps ownership under a program of shared Native American and public use.  The tribes have also supported addressing existing public use issues, including adjusting boundaries, rebuilding existing public launch facilities and constructing a new sewer lift station.
The Native American Technical Corrections Act of 2004 expanded the CRTFAS program authorization to include the redevelopment and improvement of Celilo Village east of The Dalles, Ore.


Celilo Village redevelopment

Celilo Falls and associated villages in the area have long served as a year-round home for many Native Americans; a seasonal home for many during fishing seasons; and a trade, sacred fishing ground, and gathering place for many of the Northwest tribes.

The area was severely impacted by the construction of The Dalles-Celilo Canal and Bonneville Dam, but the climax was the inundation of Celilo Falls by The Dalles Dam’s reservoir in 1957.  As mitigation for these actions, in 1948 the federal government built Celilo Village, consisting of substandard homes and inadequate sanitary and water systems.

The Celilo Village Redevelopment Project was a truly unique project, bringing living conditions to an acceptable level through cooperative development, and restoring and preserving this significant cultural and historic site.  It included relocation of the existing sewage system, construction of a new water source and storage facilities, reconfiguration of existing roadways, and improvements to existing cultural facilities.  The Corps completed the Celilo Village redevelopment project in 2009.