Tribes, UP reach access deal

By Kelly Ducote, The Observer August 30, 2013 11:33 am

Union Pacific Railroad and the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation announced a master access agreement Wednesday.

The agreement, signed along with a memorandum of understanding at a special ceremony at the Nixayaawii Governance Center on the reservation, will allow tribal access to historic fishing and hunting grounds in the Meacham Canyon Area.

The signing of the agreements comes after nearly two years of negotiations.

“We have been here since time immemorial practicing our culture, history and way of life,” said Kathryn Brigham, CTUIR Board Secretary, who also served as the lead negotiator. “These agreements further recognize our commitment to preserving our culture and our rights, while building stronger partnerships with our friends at Union Pacific.”

The CTUIR, a union of the Cayuse, Umatilla and Walla Walla tribes, signed a treaty in 1855 in which it ceded 6.4 million acres to the United States. The treaty does, however, give the tribes sovereignty to manage their land and natural resources and gives the tribes the right to fish, hunt and gather food and medicines on those ceded lands.

Chuck Sams, director of communications for the CTUIR, said the railroad right-of-ways are not always used but sometimes block access to these grounds.

“There are locked gates from time to time. Those locked gates we have on the reservation limit access,” he said. “The tribe decided to sit down and negotiate with Union Pacific.”

Those sites are hunting, gathering and allotted sites for tribal members.

Sams said the Confederate Tribes are pleased with the agreements.

Union Pacific CEO Jack Koraleski attended the special ceremony Wednesday.

“The Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation have been wonderful partners as we have worked through the details of these new agreements,” he said.