Department of Interior backs Quileute land acquisition bill

LaPush Road flooded
Chris Cook photo

Access to the Quileute Tribe’s homeland at LaPush is cut off last winter by river flooding.

The Department of the Interior gave their support Thursday, April 14 to the Quileute Tribe effort in acquiring a tract of Olympic National Park land.

The upland, interior land would be used to build new facilities and housing for the tribe that are now located in the tribe’s tsunami- and flooding-threatened fishing village located along the Pacific coast.
The park land is located on a plateau inland of and above the village, near the Quileute’s A-Ka-Lat Center.

The Department of the Interior backed federal legislation introduced by Sen. Maria Cantwell’s (D-WA) at a Senate Indian Affairs Committee hearing.

“The Department supports Senate bill 636,” said Donald Laverdure, senior officials of the Interior Department’s Bureau of Indian Affairs, in a press release sent out by Cantwell’s office.

“Recent tsunamis in the Pacific Ocean, including the one that struck Japan last month and created a huge disaster, clearly demonstrate the risk for the tribe and its citizens, and the need to move housing and infrastructure inland,” Laverdure said.

Speaking in support of the legislation at the hearing held in Washington D.C. was Quileute Tribal Chairwoman Bonita Cleveland of LaPush.

The press release quoted Cleveland, who said: “Because our village is located on one-square-mile, Mr. Chairman, and we are between the Pacific Ocean and the Olympic National Park, we have nowhere else to go…Senator Cantwell’s legislation would allow the Quileute Tribe a permanent way out of the tsunami zone…Without this bill, Mr. Chairman, the tsunami could be very dangerous to our people. I hope the words and the video shows our urgent and desperate need.”

Cleveland also showed the Quileute Tribe’s recently-released tsunami video that compared the tsunami dangers at LaPush to those of the recently tsunami-inundated coastline of Japan. The video also noted the Quileutes’ connection to the Twilight phenom.

Congressman Norm Dicks (D-WA) has introduced companion legislation in the House.

“The recent tragedy in Japan reminds us that we cannot afford to wait until a catastrophic tsunami strikes. We must act now to prepare Washington’s coastal communities and prevent loss of life and property,” Cantwell said. “This bill, which could not have happened without years of hard work by the National Park Service and Quileute Tribe, will allow the tribe to move to higher ground and out of harm’s way.”
Cantwell introduced the legislation in the Senate on March 17.

A coastal section of the Olympic National Park borders Quileute lands and would be added to 65 acres already purchased from Rayonier Inc. in 2007 for $280,000.

Plans call for the Quileute Tribe to create a complex on the land for the relocation of the Quileute Tribal School, the Quileute daycare center and elders center, plus tribal government offices. New homes could also be constructed on the parcel.

If enacted, the legislation would heal a dispute between the Olympic National Park and the tribe over the location of the northern boundary of the Quileute lands. The bill would also guarantee public access to beaches on the Washington coast, including trailheads located on Quileute lands, and designate as wilderness thousands of acres of land currently within the Olympic National Park boundary.

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