Lake Roosevelt
Administrative History
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Agreements and Disagreements: From Tri-Party Agreement to Multi-Party Agreement

From the beginning, National Park Service administration at Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area (LARO) has been entwined with the interests of the United States Bureau of Reclamation, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and two federally-recognized tribes — the Colville Confederated Tribes and the Spokane Tribe of Indians. The resulting complex jurisdictional situation has changed considerably over the years and continues to evolve today. Sometimes the three agencies, all siblings within the Department of the Interior, have worked cooperatively toward common goals while at other times they have squabbled like a dysfunctional family. The addition of the tribal voices, on equal footing with the three agencies, has altered the balance, and all five parties have been adjusting to new roles over the past decade.

The most complex administrative relationship at LARO is that between the Park Service and the two tribes. Historians Robert H. Keller and Michael F. Turek have noted that Park Service-Indian relations nationwide generally fall into four stages: "(1) unilateral appropriation of recreational land by the government; (2) an end to land-taking but a continued federal neglect of tribal needs, cultures, and treaties; (3) Indian resistance, leading to aggressive pursuit of tribal interests; and (4) a new NPS commitment to cross-cultural integrity and cooperation." [1] There are variations in this pattern at LARO, of course; for instance, although Reclamation purchased Indian lands for reservoir purposes, it soon turned these lands over to the Park Service to administer for recreation. Despite these variations, the same general stages appear to hold true, from acquisition of Indian lands for Grand Coulee Dam and its reservoir through the 1990 Lake Roosevelt Cooperative Management Agreement (or Multi-Party Agreement) to the present.

Indians had accumulated numerous grievances well before their lands were condemned for the Grand Coulee project. Their losses began decades earlier with the establishment of reservations and subsequent forced land cessions. Federal policies around the turn of the century encouraged assimilation of Indians into mainstream non-Indian culture. For instance, Indian children were sent to boarding schools in an effort to suppress traditional Indian culture. Similarly, allotment of reservation lands was supposed to encourage Indians to become farmers; it also freed up "excess" land for non-Indian settlement.

During the 1920s, Indian poverty caught the attention of some whites and spawned a number of organizations interested in Indian welfare. Concurrent with the interest of private groups, the federal government began a slow reversal of its assimilation policies. Secretary of the Interior Hubert Work designated the independent Institute of Government Research to report on reservation conditions and federal policy. The group published its report, "The Problem of Indian Administration," known simply as the Meriam Report, in 1928 and set the stage for future reforms. Evidence of desperate health and economic conditions suggested that established Indian policy had done little to create self-sufficient citizens. To counter this dismal situation, the Meriam Report offered ideas to improve education and health programs. The authors also recommended a whole different approach to native people, one that showed respect and understanding of their Indian culture. These conclusions and suggestions repeated those made by other reform groups. Change began with President Herbert Hoover's appointees in the Department of the Interior and accelerated when John Collier was appointed Commissioner of Indian Affairs in 1933. [2]

The most important legislation to come out of this period was the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA) of 1934, also known as the Wheeler-Howard Act. It called for tribal elections to either accept or reject the requirements to write a tribal constitution and establish self-government. For those tribes that voted to accept these, the act called for an end to land allotment and provided for additional purchases of lands to replace some of those lost under the Dawes Act. In addition, any lands that had not been allotted were to be returned to the tribal governments. The IRA also established a revolving loan fund for community development, provided educational loans for Indian students, and allowed Indian preference for jobs in the Office of Indian Affairs (OIA). [3]

Although two-thirds of the tribes nationwide voted to accept the provisions of the IRA, not all tribes were pleased with the choice. Among these were both the Colville and Spokane tribes. The Colvilles rejected the IRA in an election in April 1935, with 421 voting in favor and 562 against. Tribal members also rejected a constitution in June 1936, but after revisions, those who came to the polls in February 1938 voted heavily in favor. This established the Colville Business Council with fourteen members from four districts. In addition, it gathered the eleven separate bands of the reservation and renamed them the Colville Confederated Tribes (CCT). The Spokane Tribe of Indians (STI) also voted down the IRA but did not approve its tribal constitution until May 1951. [4]

Loss of Lands to Grand Coulee Dam Project

The Indian Reorganization Act came too late to help the CCT or STI in their dealings with the government during construction of Grand Coulee Dam. With the Colville Business Council just recently organized and the Spokane Tribe still without any officially recognized form of tribal government, neither was in a strong position when Reclamation began the massive Columbia Basin Irrigation Project. Instead, they relied on the OIA to look out for their interests. At the start of dam construction in July 1933, Harvey K. Meyer, Superintendent of the Colville Indian Agency, warned OIA officials that the Indians claimed half of the river. After thorough study, Assistant Commissioner William Zimmerman, Jr., agreed, and he promised that the Federal Power Commission would pay careful attention to protecting Indian rights. He asked Meyer to keep him "advised of any important development affecting the Indians' interest." [5] Later that fall, Frank R. McNinch, Chairman of the Federal Power Commission, asked for information on how the project at Grand Coulee would affect Colville and Spokane Indian rights. Zimmerman responded that the enormity of the project made it difficult to advise at that point, but he described the potential power production from the dam and concluded that it "could bear a reasonable annual rental . . . for the Indians' land and water rights involved." According to Zimmerman, the Solicitor's Office stated that Reclamation would take care of tribal interests. [6]

Reclamation tried to get a handle on the monetary value of Indian losses. In 1934, L. M. Holt, Supervising Engineer in Salt Lake City, made an initial estimate of the value of Indian lands and timber. He also recognized the importance of salmon to the Colville Tribe and noted that while the value of the annual catch was difficult to determine, $15,000 per year seemed like "the proper figure" to use. More importantly, he acknowledged only the Colville Indians' rights to a share of the undeveloped power, estimating the compensation due at $1 per horsepower, or a total one-time payment of $345,000. He claimed that the amount of water needed for power generation that originated on both reservations was negligible when compared to the total flow of the Columbia. In addition, the dam's location on the north bank was on a white homestead rather than Indian land. He figured that annual payments to the Colville Tribe of $34,419 and just $690 to the Spokane Tribe would compensate them both fairly for the loss of lands and timber and would further compensate the Colville Tribe for their loss of salmon and undeveloped water power. Reclamation, however, found by 1937 that it was busy with other urgent matters, and concern for Indian rights to power revenue and compensation for loss of the salmon runs fell by the wayside. The Indians remembered this promise, though, and in January 1941 Mr. Adolph reminded the Colville Business Council saying, "One of our Indians asked Mr. Wheeler about our royalty. Mr. Wheeler stated that we would be entitled to royalty." [7] Despite these promises, the settlement would take decades to resolve.

Reclamation and the OIA worked together to acquire Indian lands needed for the project. During 1937, the General Land Office surveyed Colville Indian allotments and tribal lands along the projected high-water line. The following year, Reclamation drafted legislation that allowed it to obtain rights-of-way across Indian lands. With the legislation evidently delayed and waters starting to rise behind the dam, Reclamation grew anxious to resolve the issue. It negotiated a memorandum of understanding with the OIA, signed on April 6, 1939, to purchase Indian lands. The MOU noted that some of these lands had already been inundated and the water was approaching others, necessitating the immediate purchase of all Indian interests in these tracts. It stipulated that Reclamation's appraisals be adopted over those of the OIA since they were more favorable to the Indians. Other interbureau agreements during this period covered additional lands as well as relocation of utility lines and roads. [8]

Payment was slow in coming, however, causing worry for Louis Balsam, who served at the Colville Indian Agency as Field Representative in Charge. He claimed that each day of delay caused genuine harm to many tribal members, and he urged prompt payments so that people could afford to relocate at upper elevations. Most of the condemned lands were used for agriculture and grazing and thus were important for subsistence, so Balsam recommended that both commissioners of Reclamation and Indian Affairs consider the annual crop cycle when acquiring lands. "The taking of these lands for clearing, which is absolutely necessary, is causing unrest among the Indians," he wrote. "Any delay now in paying for these lands means that starvation conditions may result during the 1940 crop year." He urged prompt settlement and noted Reclamation had been making payments to fee title holders, most of whom were non-Indians, for more than four years. Doing the same for tribal allottees would help "allay understandable charges that Indians have not been accorded equality in these right of way matters." [9]

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Last Updated: 22-Apr-2003