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Tribal flooding addressed in new Senate bill

WASHINGTON – A bill has been introduced in the Senate to create a pathway to resolve problems imposed on the seven tribes whose lands were flooded by the infamous Pick-Sloan Program dams.

Chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., introduced the Pick-Sloan Tribal Commission Act late July to seek a commission that would hold hearings and study the outstanding issues in order to make final recommendations to Congress and the Obama administration for a comprehensive resolution of the tribal claims.

The Flood Control Act of 1944 authorized the Pick-Sloan Program to stop flooding along the Missouri River as well as other purposes such as navigation and hydroelectric power.

As a part of this plan, five dams were constructed on the Missouri River, which flooded Indian reservation lands, community infrastructure, and prime agricultural and hunting areas. Although the tribes received some compensation for the lands, each tribe was compensated differently, and some promises remain unfulfilled, according to Dorgan’s office.

Many tribes have noted the problems they have faced as a result of the dams.

“The impact of the Pick-Sloan Program was devastating to all the Missouri River tribes including the Yankton Sioux Tribe,” testified Robert Cournoyer, Yankton Sioux Tribe chairman, on Capitol Hill in 2007.

Cournoyer explained that the Fort Randall Dam and reservoir inundated a large portion of the Yankton Sioux reservations bottom lands and rich productive agricultural lands.

He said the Fort Randall project alone flooded 2,851 acres of Indian trust land within the Yankton Sioux reservation and required the relocation and resettlement of at least 20 families which was approximately eight percent of the resident tribal population. Over the past 50 years, he estimated the tribe has lost an additional 408 acres to stream bank erosion.

It is estimated that Lakota, Dakota and Nakota tribes lost 202,000 acres overall, which means the dams destroyed more Native American land than any other public works project in the history of the nation.

“For several decades we have fielded individual claims from the tribes impacted by the Pick-Sloan Program, but we lack a comprehensive approach to resolving the issues. This bill will move us toward a complete and final solution to address the critical tribal interests at stake,” Dorgan said. “The flooding of these lands was destructive to the seven tribes who made their homes along the Missouri River, and it’s time we develop a solution to finally settle these decades-old issues. We believe this commission will result in that solution.”

Sens. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., Tim Johnson, D-S.D., and John Thune, R-S.D., are co-sponsors of the legislation.