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Grande Ronde Tribe asks to be consulted on Columbia Gorge issues 4-27-07

McMINNVILLE, Ore. (AP) - Citing ancestral roots, the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde wants to be on the list of tribes the Columbia Gorge Commission must consult.

The tribe says, though, the request isn't a means of advancing its side in a struggle with another tribe over a casino in the gorge.

“This is not about that,” said tribal attorney Rob Greene. “This is about tribal history and the use of the scenic area. We want to be involved.”

The commission oversees administration of the federal 1986 Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Act. It is required to consult with the Warm Springs, Yakama, Umatilla and Nez Perce tribes, along with various local, state and federal agencies.

Greene and the commission's executive director, Jill Arens, said the body is unlikely to have much of a say about a casino proposed by the Warm Springs tribe, which is considering industrial land not governed by commission rules.

The Grand Ronde tribe, based in western Yamhill County, owns the Spirit Mountain Casino, the state's largest. It has been campaigning to block the Warm Springs Tribe from developing a large casino at Cascade Locks, which could siphon Spirit Mountain's Portland customers.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs is preparing an environmental impact statement on the project, which should be available in June or July. If that is favorable, the project could move forward regardless of the commission's view, Arens said.

The Warm Springs Tribe opposes the Grand Ronde Tribes on the commission question. A recent article in the tribal newspaper suggested the Grande Ronde Tribes should not have any special say in Gorge matters because it has no treaty rights or land ownerships.

Grand Ronde officials say descendants of two chiefs who signed treaties establishing off-reservation fishing and hunting rights in the Columbia River Gorge are now members of Grand Ronde tribe.

Greene said some of the 27 bands and communities that made up the Grand Ronde confederation in the 1860s were from the gorge, and their descendants want to be consulted on matters that could affect their homelands, burial grounds, artifacts and culture.
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