Monday, June 11, 2007

Yakama Nation buys Lyle Point, ending decades-long struggle over fishing rights

By Terri C. Hansen
High Country News


On maps it is called Lyle Point, but to tribal fishing people it has always been Nanainmi Waki Uulktt, “the place where the wind blows from two directions.”

The rocky promontory overlooks the confluence of the Klickitat and Columbia rivers, providing spectacular views of the Columbia River Gorge as it cuts through the Cascade Range. To the west, Oregon’s Mount Hood stands sentinel over magnificent canyon walls rising to 4,000 feet above the river.

The gorge was the center of trade for tribes from the Plains to the Pacific. Lyle Point was home to a Cascade and Klickitat village, and provided an important fishery and meeting place for over 10,000 years. But like many tribal lands in the Northwest, it was lost when white immigrants moved to the area in the mid-1800s. The drowning of Celilo Falls, another traditional tribal fishing place, under the waters of The Dalles Dam 50 years ago was a further blow. Now, at least one of those lost fishing grounds will be restored to the tribes that once depended on it. On May 8, the Yakama Nation announced the $2.4 million acquisition of Lyle Point from the Trust for Public Land, ending a long-simmering battle with would-be developers.

“This is a great day for the Yakamas — to get the land returned back for access to our fishing right areas,” announced Yakama Tribal Council Chairwoman Lavina Washines. “The younger generation will continue to exercise their Creator-given right to our very important salmon.”

The same winds that made Lyle Point a primary salmon-drying area for thousands of years also made it a world-class windsurfing mecca in the late 1980s. Klickitat County approved a 33-lot subdivision in 1992, threatening to turn the area into a gated community.

Yakama Margaret Saluskin was the first to raise the alarm about the subdivision plans. One day while she was drying salmon that her husband, Douglas, caught at Lyle Point, she noticed bulldozers carving the first roads into the promontory. Protests by tribal members and environmentalists swiftly ensued. When vandals destroyed a fishing scaffold at the point, the protesters began a nine-month encampment on the site. The tribe’s access to traditional scaffold fishing, protected by the Treaty of 1855, was at stake, Saluskin said.

Conservation groups joined the protest, saying Lyle Point was a resting place for bald eagles. The Trust for Public Land, a nonprofit specializing in conservation of real estate, began negotiations to purchase Lyle Point and held discussions with tribal members about ways to protect and manage the sacred site.

By 2002, the trust had purchased most of the lots, paving the way for conveyance to the Yakama. But tribal councils could not reach a consensus until the current administration, led by Washines, accomplished the acquisition.

Word spread like wildfire among Columbia River tribal peoples when the land deal finally became official. Nearly 200 tribal members and their supporters gathered at the point on May 15 to celebrate their long-awaited victory.

“Today marks the return and protection of sacred land,” said Charles F. Sams III, director of the trust’s Tribal and Native Lands Program and a member of the Cocopah, Payuse and Assinoboine Sioux tribes. “My grandfather took me up and down the river and showed me what we had lost. He told me I had a responsibility to the People, and to the salmon, to ensure their existence so they would continue to feed the People.”

Some visibly struggled to maintain composure as memories were brought to life. “We fought for this,” Cascade Chief Wilbur Slockish said. “It almost came to actual blows! So they can recreate? Make money, and windsurf? It was because we were standing in the way of economic progress. Progress.”

He brought out a chuckle when he told the crowd, “Progress always involves our homes, our cemeteries, our fishing grounds. There would have been coffee shops, cheese shops, wine tasting here.”

In 1945, Nisqually Billy Frank Jr. was arrested at age 14 for illegal fishing, starting a fight with the state of Washington that culminated in the 1974 Boldt decision affirming tribal fishing rights as reserved in treaties with the United States. “When I started singing today, I started thinking about all my partners,” he said. “All the good times here. All the bad times.” He paused in reflection. “I’m happy to be here to witness this great occasion. It feels good.”

Even as the tribes and the Trust for Public Land celebrate, the nearby town remains divided. There are those who still hope to see Lyle Point developed. “We need the tax basis for schools and fire departments and so forth,” resident Don Smith said. Others, like Pam Essling, support the return of the land to the Yakama. “We honor the historical, cultural and spiritual significance of this place,” she said. “We’re here to congratulate the Yakama people for reacquiring their land to preserve, protect and enhance their cultural and natural resources for all people. It can be a place for healing old wounds and misunderstanding.”

The purchase of Lyle Point ensures that thousands of years of tradition will continue along the river. Supporters from nearby communities will continue to be invited to tribal gatherings and feasts, Yakama leaders say, aiding cultural understanding and reconciliation.

After those who’d gathered finished a dinner of salmon and dried venison, Margaret Saluskin, who had fought so long and so hard, said with a peaceful smile, “Whatever you had in your hearts and minds for saving this land where the wind blows two ways, I want to thank you.”

© High Country News 2007

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Udall Legacy Tour highlights Native American projects across the country

by Terri C. Hansen
Environment and Science Writer

News from Indian Country
Native American Times

WASHINGTON, D.C.--He championed the rights of Native Americans.

He was a fierce advocate for tribal sovereignty.

He sponsored the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, and the Indian Child Welfare Act.

Former Congressman Morris K. Udall, better known as Mo, saw 184 bills affecting Native American interests enacted during his 14 years as chairman of the House Interior Committee. He served 30 years in the U.S. House of Representatives until 1991, when Parkinson’s disease precipitated a fall causing irreversible brain damage and loss of speech. The following year Congress established the Morris K. Udall Scholarship and Excellence in National Environmental Protection Foundation in honor of his distinguished congressional career.

Scholarships, internships and fellowships totaling $4.6 million have been awarded to students pursuing careers related to the environment and Native Americans engaged in health care or tribal policy studies. The Udall Legacy Bus Tour is drawing attention to the programs laudable accomplishments and mark the 10th anniversary of the Udall Foundation’s education programs.

Thirteen Udall scholars embarked from Washington, D.C. on an 8,600 mile, 54 day journey June 12. “This bus tour is about honoring Mo Udall's legacy by bringing attention to young people nationwide who are finding solutions to pressing environmental and Native American issues,” said Udall Scholar Bob Filbin, the tour photographer.

“At a time when we are faced with so many problems, we felt that this bus tour could tell a different story – a positive story about young public servants leading the country in new directions.”

Projects related to Native communities will be highlighted during much of the Tour. They arrive at the Penobscot Nation June 19, where Boys and Girls Club members will be given digital cameras and lessons on digital photography on nature hikes featuring Arcadia’s natural history.

Members of the Cornell American Indian Program and representatives of local tribes will host a dinner there June 23, followed by a presentation by the Transboundary Indigenous Waters Program Initiative and a discussion of healthy environments to Native Peoples.

The United Houma Nation is sponsoring the Legacy Bus stop July 6, where several tribal members will join the Udall scholars in exploring the swamps, bayous and canals of southern Louisiana by boat, learning the importance of these local ecosystems in the Houma culture. The afternoon will be spent touring the United Houma Community. Scholars will meet with tribal council members to discuss the devastating effects of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita to the Houma Nation.

In Haskell, Kansas the group will tour the Haskell/Baker wetlands July 9 to learn the historic, cultural and ecological importance of the site and the environmental justice issues and concerns surrounding it.

The Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde hosts the Legacy Bus July 25. Scholars will join tribal members in helping develop a number of campsites on the reservation in order to mitigate environmental damage and facilitate enjoyment of the reservation’s natural beauty. Other tribal outreach includes a Native American Healthcare Symposium in Oklahoma City, and an irrigation and tree planting project with Salish and Kootenai College students on the Flathead Reservation in Montana.

These projects were made possible by alumni of the Udall Foundation scholarship and internship programs. Udall intern Brian Mercier coordinated the Grand Ronde venture. The Salish and Kootenai College project involved connections made by Udall Scholar Lauren Caldwell.

Tribal coordinator Martina Gast, Ojibwe and a 2006 and 2007 Udall Scholar said she really wanted to be involved in the Native American aspects of the tour. “I hope to bring more Native people doing awesome work into the public eye since so often they are not.” Gast plans to network with people throughout the tour to further her insight into their tribal nations. Future plans are law school to further her career in tribal public policy.

Jennifer Vazquez joined the tour as a tribal coordinator while working at traditional farms, community centers and eco-villages in Japan. “I was so amazed at the network of people and ideas that I became part of, then the opportunity came up to do the same thing in the U.S.” Her work with tribal communities in Wisconsin was some of her most rewarding experiences, so the tour “presented me a way to continue working within Native communities, only now, all over the country.”

The Legacy Bus is “not your average bus.” It runs on B-20 biodiesel and ultra low-sulfur diesel, and is equipped with real time emissions-monitoring hardware. Their goal is a carbon-neutral tour—carbon dioxide being the pollutant that is contributing to global warming—by purchasing carbon offsets from Native Energy, a corporation largely owned by Native Americans.

Udall Foundation programs have provided hundreds of awards and opportunities to Native American student leaders. Any Native American student interested in learning more about the scholarship or internship programs can find information along with applications on the Udall Foundation web site:

© Terri Crawford Hansen 2007

Monday, June 4, 2007

Successful appeal to keep hiking trail off burial ground disregarded by port district

by Terri C. Hansen
Environment Writer
News from Indian Country

Cathlamet, Wash.--Thirty years ago, the eternal resting place of the Chinook Chief Skamokawa was plundered.

Skamokawa was unearthed for the peace medal he received from Lewis and Clark. Other artifacts were stolen along with the medal.

Skamokawa's body, too, was stolen.

Circa 1805

Wahkiakum Indians waiting atop basalt cliffs
over Cathlamet, looking for the white men
they had heard were coming. When they spotted
Lewis and Clark's Corp's of Discovery they sent
out canoes to lead them to their village to trade.

The Chinook Nation fought Wahkiakum County Port District No. 2 to stop the trail from accessing the site, used by tribal members for religious ceremonies. And they prevailed.

Or so it had seemed.

In March, the state Shoreline's Hearing Board ordered the trail rerouted and shortened, if necessary, so that no point would come within 400 feet of the perimeter of the site, to be designated by an independent archaeologist hired by the port. Further, no access from the trail to the site would be permitted, and no signs allowed except for general information at the trailhead concerning the history of a site "in the area."

The port voted April 19 to move ahead with the trail without contracting for an independent archeological survey, as required by the Board's order, Tarabochia said. Instead, the Chinook Nation received a map from the port with a revised trail route allegedly allowing for the 400-foot buffer zone roughly marked in. Their revision is based on an old survey, leading the tribe to question how the port could determine the new trail route with no new information.

Carol Carver, a port commissioner, said that the port was undecided about hiring an independent archaeologist. The Commissioner suggested that the Chinook Nation should think about paying for the survey themselves. Carver said, “They,” the Chinook Tribe, “should think about paying part of the cost of any archaeological survey.”

But the port's latest plans for the trail are in violation of that order, says Chinook tribal spokesman Tim Tarabochia. "We feel the port hasn't met the conditions ordered by the Shoreline's Hearings Board," he says. "The tribe is opposed to the trail. It still provides access to the site."