CTWS Asks the ODFW to repeal Memorandum of Agreement that Harms Tribal Sovereignty and Inter-Tribal Kinship in Oregon

This week, Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation of Oregon filed a petition with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife asking it to repeal or amend the rule implementing the August 4, 2023 Tribal Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) that authorized off-reservation hunting, fishing, trapping and gathering by Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde.

In the petition, the Warm Springs Tribe asserts that the MOA creates conflict with the terms of the Warm Springs Tribe’s Treaty, ignores the cultural connections to Willamette Falls and other areas in western Oregon that the Warm Springs Tribe has customarily used since time immemorial, and places one Tribe’s interests over others’ in a way that clashes with tribal sovereignty.

The petition further describes how the Commission’s rushed decision-making process failed to meaningfully and appropriately consult with Warm Springs Tribe or acknowledge its clear, sustained objections. It also points out the legal error underlying the Fish and Wildlife Commission’s vote, as two commissioners who voted to approve were acting on expired terms of office.

The MOA allows the Grand Ronde Tribe to co-manage fish and wildlife resources throughout much of western Oregon, including areas where Warm Springs Tribe retains treaty-reserved rights to fish and hunt. Those areas include ODFW Wildlife Management Units 15 (Willamette) and 16 (Santiam), including but not limited to, the mainstem of the Columbia River, the Willamette River from the mouth to the top of Willamette Falls, and the Sandy River, as well as any property held in fee by another federally-recognized Indian tribe.

The Warm Springs Tribe has fished in the lower Columbia River and its tributaries, and has hunted on unclaimed lands in western Oregon, since time immemorial. Warm Springs Tribal Members harvest lamprey and salmon at Willamette Falls, manage salmon fisheries below Bonneville Dam and harvest smelt in the Sandy River. The Warm Springs Tribe retains treaty-protected rights to hunt and gather on unclaimed lands in western Oregon, particularly the western slope of the Cascades.

As the State was developing the MOA, the Warm Springs Tribe expressed their concerns directly to the State about how this would impair their treaty-reserved rights to hunt and fish, yet the State proceeded despite these concerns.

According to the Warm Springs Tribe, this marks the first time the State has made a decision to recognize the rights of one Tribe over the direct and sustained objections of another Tribe. This has resulted in the current MOA allowing the Grand Ronde Tribe to regulate fishing, hunting and gathering activities of its members in all of these locations. This sets the stage for conflicts between the members of different Tribes when multiple parties are conducting fisheries or other activities in these areas, or any other area under the MOA.

Robert A. Brunoe, Secretary Treasurer/CEO of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, said “Our people have always fished and hunted in Western Oregon beyond our ceded lands. Willamette Falls is a particularly important fishery for us. Why would the State want to privilege one Tribe’s rights to fish and hunt in this area over another and issue a decision that conflicts with existing rights and sovereignty? We’re giving the State an opportunity to fix its mistake, and to advance an agreement that can respect the sovereignty of all tribes affected. ODFW should initiate a new rule-making process and appropriately consult with all impacted tribes to adequately hear, understand and respect our concerns.”

The petition details the flaws in the State’s decision-making process:

  • Without meaningfully consulting with and addressing concerns raised by the Warm Springs Tribe, the Commission’s deliberation was followed by a motion and rushed vote that approved the MOA.
  • The vote to approve the agreement passed with the support of two commissioners whose terms had already expired. Had these two commissioners not continued to act on their expired terms, the vote would have failed 2-3.

To address these issues, the petition proposes either repealing or amending the rule implementing the MOA. It includes an amended geographic scope that would make the MOA consistent with many other tribal management agreements, rather than an isolated and unprecedented outlier, so as to minimize the risk of future inter-tribal conflict with respect to the management and harvest of fish and wildlife in western Oregon.