Oregon’s total “American Indian” population, according to the 2010 U.S. Census, included 109,223 people as “American Indian or Alaskan Native”. Oregon’s “American Indians” live in all 36 counties and are about 3% of Oregon’s total population. Fewer than 50% of Oregon’s “American Indian” population are members of the 9 federally recognized tribes in Oregon. Other “American Indians” who reside in Oregon are members of tribes in other states, descendants, individuals who “self-identify” as “American Indians” or tribal people from other regions.
Members of Oregon’s 9 federally recognized tribes speak of being in this area from time immemorial. Village sites and traditional ways are known to date back thousands of years. Tribal governments are separate and unique sovereign nations with powers to protect the health, safety and welfare of their enrolled members and to govern their lands. This tribal sovereignty predates the existence of the U.S. government and the state of Oregon. Members residing in Oregon are citizens of their tribes, citizens of Oregon and, since 1924, citizens of the United States of America.
The U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs, oversees tribal interests and administers the federal government’s trust obligations. At times, the federal government has been supportive of tribal self-determination and, in other periods, has adopted policies and passed legislation having a negative impact on the ability of tribes to govern as sovereigns. “Termination,” one such policy in the 1950s, was an attempt to sever federal trusteeship and support for tribal sovereignty. Of the 109 tribes and bands terminated nationwide, 62 were in Oregon. In 1975, the federal government recognized the failure of its termination policy and passed the Indian Self Determination and Education Assistance Act and, later, the Tribal Self-Governance Act.
Several tribes began the process to restore their status as sovereign nations. In 1977, The Confederated Tribes of Siletz was the second tribe in the nation to achieve restoration. Following Siletz was the Cow Creek Band of the Umpqua Tribe of Indians in 1982, the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde in 1983, the Confederated Tribes of Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw in 1984, the Klamath Tribes in 1986 and the Coquille Indian Tribe in 1989.
Another 3 federally recognized tribal governments exist in Oregon:
- The Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs (Treaty of 1855)
- The Confederated Tribes of Umatilla (Treaty of 1855)
- The Burns Paiute Tribe (1972 Executive Order)
Fort McDermitt Paiute Shoshone Tribe is a federally-recognized tribe with reservation lands straddling Oregon and Nevada, but the tribe’s population center is in Nevada. Celilo Village is a federally-recognized tribal entity near The Dalles, jointly administered by the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, the Confederated Tribes of Umatilla and the Yakama Indian Nation (Washington).
All Oregon tribal governments have reservation or trust lands created by treaties, statutes or executive branch actions. Tribal governments have regulatory authority over these lands, unless that authority has been removed by Congress. Nearly 904,000 acres, or at least 1.6% of land within Oregon’s boundaries, are held in trust by the federal government or are designated reservation lands. Tribal governments have the authority to decide their own membership qualifications and have a right to exclude individuals from their reservations. Just as Oregon does not collect tax on federal lands nor tax federal or local governments or non-profit corporations, Oregon does not tax tribal governments, but all tribal members as individual citizens pay federal taxes and most pay state taxes, with the exception of those who live and work on a reservation or earn money on reservation or trust lands or from trust resources.
Public Law 280 gave the state certain civil and criminal jurisdiction over tribes with the exception of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, the Confederated Tribes of Umatilla and the Burns Paiute Tribe, which are “non Public Law 280” tribes. Notwithstanding Public Law 280, all Oregon tribes have the authority to elect their own governments and adopt laws and ordinances. Oregon tribal governments have their own departments dealing with governmental services, including law enforcement and tribal court systems. In addition, each tribal government operates programs in the areas of natural resources, cultural resources, education, health and human services, public safety, housing, economic development and other areas to serve their members. Oregon maintains a government-to-government relationship with the tribal governments as directed in
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Passage of the National Indian Gaming Regulatory Act in 1988 created the opportunity to build gaming centers on reservation and trust lands. Besides providing employment opportunities for tribal members and citizens of surrounding communities, revenues from these tribal enterprises fund health clinics, education, scholarships, housing and other services. All Oregon tribal governments are striving to diversify their revenue streams and are actively pursuing other avenues for generating revenue. These gaming and other enterprises have made these tribal governments some of the largest employers in their counties—generating employment for tax-paying employees, benefiting local communities and the entire state.
Most Oregon tribes are “confederations” of 3 or more tribes and bands. Each tribe’s area of interest may extend beyond its tribal governmental center or reservation location.
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