COOS BAY, Ore. (AP) - A coastal Native American tribe's bid for ownership of the Cape Arago Lighthouse is getting a boost from members of Oregon's congressional delegation.
A bill introduced this week would transfer the federally owned Chief's Island and Gregory Point to the Confederated Tribes of the Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw Indians. The U.S. Coast Guard administers the land now.
Sens. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Congressmen Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., are working to advance the legislation in the U.S. Senate.
Under their proposal, the tribe would receive about 24 acres including tiny Chief's Island, where the lighthouse sits, and nearby Gregory Point. The properties are considered sacred ancestral land to the Confederated Tribes, Chief David Brainard told The World newspaper of Coos Bay.
Tribal Administrator Francis Somday said the land was the site of an Indian village and tribal cemetery. Members of the tribe continue to pay respects to their ancestors and perform ceremonies there, including the Salmon Ceremony in August.
The tribes have sought ownership of the land since at least 1984. But the U.S. Interior Department contends the tribes do not qualify to assume ownership under the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act.
If the property is returned to the tribes, Brainard said, members will hold more ceremonies on Chief's Island. The lands would be held in trust and would become part of the tribes' reservation.
In exchange, the tribes will have to maintain the light station and make it available for education, park, recreation, cultural or historic preservation purposes for the general public at reasonable times and under reasonable conditions, the bill stated.
A spokesman in Smith's Washington office said the committee may hold a hearing on the proposed legislation before the August recess.