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COQUILLE — Several thousand acres of federal forest land have been put under management of the Coquille Indian Tribe and the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians on Monday after President Donald Trump signed the Western Oregon Tribal Fairness Act.

“We have worked for more than 20 years to correct the unfair requirements placed on us in 1996,” said Tribal Chairwoman Brenda Meade. “We are enormously gratified that Congress and President Trump have taken this important step. “

The new act “decouples” the Coquille Tribal Forest from federal rules that limited the tribe’s forest management options. The Coquilles were the only U.S. tribe working under that handicap.

In addition to helping the Coquille Tribe, the bill restores 17,519 acres of federal land to the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians, and 14,742 acres to the Confederated Tribes of Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw Indians. It provides the two tribes a land base for the first time since their restoration as federally recognized tribes in the 1980s.

The legislation, H.R. 1306, was authored by Oregon Rep. Peter De Fazio.

After previously passing the House three times, the Senate passed the legislation for the first time this past December. Rep. DeFazio personally appealed to Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Chairwoman of the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee, to push for the bill’s passage in the Senate.

“For years, these tribes have been unable to govern themselves as the sovereign nations that they are,” said Congressman Peter DeFazio. “While there is still much work to be done to correct our nation’s injustices toward Native Americans, the passage of the Western Oregon Tribal Fairness Act is an encouraging move toward progress. This is a tremendous accomplishment for the Cow Creek Tribes, Coquille Tribes, and Confederated Tribes of the Coos, Lower Umpqua, and Siuslaw.”

Congress granted the Coquille Tribe a similar but smaller land base in 1996 — about 5,400 acres. Its purpose was to help the tribe support education, health care and elder services. The 1996 legislation, however, bound the land to the standards and regulations governing nearby federal lands.

Despite this unique handicap, the Coquille Forest consistently has outperformed every other federal forest in the region, achieving both economic and environmental success. Trump’s signature on the Tribal Fairness Act positions the tribe for greater opportunities, freely managing a small portion of the lands its people controlled for thousands of years.

“We look forward to continuing our sustainable stewardship of the Coquille Tribal Forest, aided by the additional flexibility this legislation grants us,” Meade said. “Now that we now are on equal footing with other U.S. tribes, we’re excited to show what we can accomplish.”

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