Tribes Object To Forced Opening Of ‘Sacred Mountain’ To Public

Rattlesnake Mountain as seen from the Horn Rapids area near Richland, Washington.Umptanum Wikimedia

Rattlesnake Mountain as seen from the Horn Rapids area near Richland, Washington.
Umptanum Wikimedia

 

By Tom Banse, Northwest News Network

The Yakama Nation and neighboring tribes are strongly objecting to a Congressional move to offer public access to the summit of Rattlesnake Mountain, a place tribal members consider sacred.

The mountain lies in the Hanford Reach National Monument near Richland, Washington.

Central Washington’s outgoing Republican Congressman Doc Hastings authored the requirement that the federal government provide some degree of public access. The provision is now tacked on to a must-pass defense spending bill.

Access to the windswept, treeless mountain overlooking the Hanford nuclear site is currently highly restricted. Philip Rigdon supervises the Yakama Nation Department of Natural Resources. He said the summit of Rattlesnake Mountain should remain off-limits to the general public.

“The mountain is a place that is critical to our culture, our religion and the ceremonies that we continue to perform today,” Rigdon said.

But Rigdon’s arguments may be in vain. A Democratic Senate staffer said the defense spending bill now includes so many unrelated member requests, it’s expected to pass by a wide margin this week.

Last week, the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act won U.S. House approval on a bipartisan 300-119 vote. Many public lands provisions that have been bottled up in the divided Congress for years have now been folded into the mammoth bill.

Some of the measures of Northwest interest would expand the Oregon Caves National Monument and Alpine Lakes Wilderness and protect the Hanford B Reactor as part of a new Manhattan Project National Historical Park.

Representative Hastings had long sought to force the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the relevant land manager, through legislation to provide greater access to Rattlesnake Mountain. The House unanimously passed such a bill in 2013, but it died without a hearing in the Democrat-controlled Senate.

“The views of Indian tribes are legitimate, and they have a right to be heard and consulted,” Hastings said during an earlier House committee hearing. “But the views of local communities and all citizens also deserve to be heard and listened to — and there is overwhelming local public support for access to the summit of Rattlesnake Mountain.”

“The public should expect that if they can visit the summit of Mt. Rainier, then they certainly should be allowed to the summit of Rattlesnake Mountain,” Hastings said as he described the “unparalled views” of the Columbia Basin from the ridge. A gated, paved road leads to the summit.

The Native American name for Rattlesnake Mountain is “Laliik.” Rigdon said Columbia Plateau tribes such as the Yakama, Umatilla and Nez Perce want to preserve the “spiritual” qualities of a holy place.

“It’s astonishing to me that we continue this total disregard for our religion, our ceremonies and this place that has provided for us,” concluded Rigdon.

“Laliik is our Mount Sinai,” Yakama tribal Chairman JoDe Goudy wrote in a recent letter to U.S. senators. “When our Long House leaders feel that a young adult is ready and worthy, Laliik is where they are sent to fast and to have vision quests. This is not a place for Airstreams and Winnebagos.”

The Rattlesnake Mountain provision is one of several aspects of the defense spending bill that trouble tribes. The Yakama Nation chairman also wrote to oppose the transfer of more than 1,000 acres of surplus land at the urbanized edge of the Department of Energy’s Hanford Site for economic development.

Northwest tribes are also joining in solidarity with Native bands in the Southwest who object to the transfer of Tonto National Forest land to a private company that plans to mine for copper.

Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to improve the protection of Indian sacred sites

By Monica Brown, Tulalip Tribes Communications Department

News Release

Release No. 0354.12
Contact:
USDA Office of Communications (202) 720-4623

Departments of Agriculture, Defense, Energy, and Interior Sign Memorandum to Collaborate to Protect Indian Sacred Sites

Advisory Council on Historic Preservation Also Participates

WASHINGTON, Dec. 6, 2012—Four cabinet-level departments joined the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation today in signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to improve the protection of Indian sacred sites. The MOU also calls for improving tribal access to the sites. It was signed by cabinet secretaries from the U.S. Departments of Agriculture, Defense, Energy and Interior. It was also signed by the chairman of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation.

“The President is insistent that these Sacred Sites be protected and preserved: treated with dignity and respect. That is also my commitment as Secretary of USDA,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “I know my fellow Secretaries share in this commitment. We understand the importance of these sites and will do our best to make sure they are protected and respected.”

“American Indian service members are fighting to protect America on distant battlefields,” said Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. “I’m pleased this new agreement will help protect Indian sacred sites here at home.”

“Protecting America’s air and water and our nation’s heritage is an important part of the Energy Department’s commitment to Tribal Nations across the country, particularly those that are neighbors to the Department’s National Laboratories, sites and facilities,” said Energy Secretary Steven Chu. “I look forward to continuing this important work and collaborating with other federal agencies and Tribal Nations to protect Indian sacred sites throughout the United States.”

“We have a special, shared responsibility to respect and foster American Indian and Alaska Native cultural and religious heritage, and today’s agreement recognizes that important role,” said Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar. “Inter-agency cooperation fosters our nation-to-nation relationship with tribes, and that’s certainly true when it comes to identifying and avoiding impacts to the sites that tribes hold sacred.”

“Through collaboration and consultation, the signatory agencies will work to raise awareness about Indian sacred sites and the importance of maintaining their integrity. The tools to be developed under this MOU will help agencies meet their Section 106 responsibilities,” said Milford Wayne Donaldson, FAIA, ACHP chairman. “The Advisory Council on Historic Preservation is very pleased to be part of this historic initiative to address the protection and preservation of Indian sacred sites.”

The MOU will be in effect for five years and requires participating agencies to determine inter-agency measures to protect sacred sites. It also sets up a framework for consultation with tribes, creation of a training program for federal employees to provide educational opportunities concerning legal protections and limitations related to protection of the sites, creation of a website that includes links to federal agency responsibilities regarding sacred sites and the establishment of management practices that could include collaborative stewardship of those sites.

The MOU calls for development of guidance for management and treatment of sacred sites including creation of sample tribal-agency agreements. It sets up a public outreach plan to maintain, protect and preserve the sites, and calls for identification of impediments to federal-level protection of the sites. Additionally, the MOU provides for outreach to non-federal partners, tribal capacity-building efforts and it establishes a working group to implement the terms of the agreement.

Source: http://usda.gov/wps/portal/usda/usdahome?contentid=2012/12/0354.xml&contentidonly=true

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