Quileute national park land acquisition bill signed by President

LaPush residents and Quileute tribal offices, the Quileute Tribal School and other facilities are moving to higher ground, out of a tsunami flood zone.

On Monday, Feb. 27 President Barack Obama signed into law H.R. 1162. This provides the Quileute Nation with 785 acres of Olympic National Park lands that are located on the plateau above the oceanfront Quileute village at LaPush.

“With the President’s signature today, the long-awaited move out of harm’s way can finally begin for the Quileute,” said Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) in a press release. “We are proud of the many supporters who came together over the years to make today a reality. This is an important victory for the safety and future of the Quileute Nation. Every day, Quileute students go to school in a schoolhouse that is just feet above sea level. Today, we have taken the first step toward moving those students to safety. The Quileute Nation can finally move forward to proactively protect its people from the threat of a devastating tsunami.”

Following the U.S. Senate’s passage of the House bill in mid-February, Quileute Tribal Chairman Tony Foster said: “I am so excited to hear the news today about the passage of the bill! I am overwhelmed with emotions and so grateful that our tribe will actually be able to move our elders and children out of the path of a tsunami and up to higher ground. Our tribal school, senior center, administrative offices and elders situated in the lower village, will all benefit from the passage of this legislation.”

The bill was introduced in the House by Rep. Norm Dicks (D-WA). Cantwell is a member of the Indian Affairs Committee in the Senate.

The issue of expanding the one-square-mile Quileute reservation up and inland into Olympic National Park lands has been a contentious issue for years. The Quileute Tribe for a time cut off access to the national park’s trail to Second Beach at LaPush, the entrance to the trail and parking lot crosses a section of Quileute land. The trail was reopened about four years ago once forward motion began on the land acquisition. Cantwell’s office said, “The bill guarantees permanent public access to the magnificent Rialto and Second beaches on the Washington coast.”

A 275 acre section of the newly acquired land will be the site for the Quileute Tribal Council’s headquarters, for the Quileute Tribal School, a seniors center, pre-school facility and more. The additional 510 acre plot of land, located north of LaPush Road, settles a long-standing boundary dispute between the Quileute Tribe and Olympic National Park. Quileute tradition shows the tribe hunted and considered theirs lands stretching from the coast at LaPush inland to the Olympic Mountain Range.

A milestone in the final push for the land in Congress was a presentation in April 2011 at an Indian Affairs hearing when the Department of the Interior backed the Quileute’s tsunami protection legislation. Bonita Cleveland, who preceded Foster as chair of the Quileute Tribal Council, described and used a ten-minute video to show how winter flooding often cuts off access to LaPush along SR 110-LaPush Road, stranding the residents of LaPush.

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