Stop Sacrificing Indigenous Sacred Sites in the Name of Climate Change


Why should low-carbon projects be allowed to destroy legendary Native American sacred sites? Yakama elders witnessed the construction of the Dalles Dam which flooded and silenced Celilo Falls on the Columbia River. Since time immemorial, Celilo Falls has been one of the great markets in history. Several tribes had permanent villages near the falls. Thousands of people have gathered each year to trade, feast and participate in games and religious ceremonies over the millennia. In the spring, this natural landmark increased up to 10 times the amount of water that passes over Niagara Falls today.

What must indigenous peoples continue to sacrifice for energy development? The Seattle Times Editorial Board recently announced its support for the Goldendale Pumped Storage Hydroelectric Project to benefit the state’s clean energy portfolio. [“Goldendale energy project can help meet state’s clean-energy needs,” Sept. 2, Opinion]. The council built an alternate reality where tribal nations could find common ground with the developer and resolve objections to the construction of the project. The board wrote, “A compromise that allows the project to proceed while respecting tribal concerns would be a win-win for all.” The council ignores the realities of Native American history and the history of this project, which confederate tribes and bands of the Yakama Nation (Yakama Nation) opposed to the original development proposal on this site.

The project site is located in Pushpum, a sacred site for the Yakama Nation, a place where there is an abundance of traditional foods and medicines. The proponent’s footprint proposes excavations and trenches over identified traditional Aboriginal cultural property, historical and archaeological resources, and access to exercise ceremonial practices and treaty gathering rights.

Notably, the project site covers the site of the ancestral village of the Willa-witz-pum band and the Yakama fishing site called As’num, where the Yakama tribal fishers continue to exercise their treaty fishing rights.

The Yakama Nation opposes development. The proponent is proposing two approximately 60-acre reservoirs and associated energy infrastructure in the Columbia Hills near the John Day Dam and an existing wind turbine complex. The majority of the nearly 700-acre site is undeveloped; the lower reservoir would be located on part of the former site of the Columbia Gorge aluminum smelter. The tribal treaty right to engage in gathering, fishing, ceremonial and transmission of traditions in the proposed project area has existed since time immemorial. The tribe studied attenuation; this is not possible on this site.

Columbia Riverkeeper, and more than a dozen other nonprofits, stand in solidarity with the Yakama Nation and against development: the climate crisis does not absolve our moral and ethical responsibilities. Tribal nations and environmental organizations have worked tirelessly to halt fossil fuel development and secure monumental climate legislation in the Pacific Northwest. But we refuse to support an area sacrificed to destroy Native American cultural and sacred sites in the name of fighting climate change.

Environmental justice is in line with the development of pumped storage. Seventeen tribal chiefs sent a letter to Governor Jay Inslee, urging him to reject development permits. The leaders explained, “Our ancestors signed treaties with the United States, often under the threat of violence and death, in exchange for our ancestral lands and sacred places. Through these treaties, we retain the right to practice and live according to our traditional ways in these places. Yet the promises made by the government have been repeatedly broken. »

Earlier this year, the Washington State Office of Equity, located within the governor’s office, released Washington State’s first five-year pro-equity anti-racism blueprint and playbook. Governor Inslee said, “We will no longer replicate or reinforce systems, processes and behaviors that lead to inequalities and disparities between different communities. Now is the time to apply the playbook to climate change and energy implementation.

There is no room for compromise. The choice is clear: continue to advance the story of our nation and state by sacrificing indigenous resources through broken promises, or work with determined tribes to fight the climate crisis while protecting the last remaining sacred sites. .


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