Tribal Government & News
Feds to restore Native American sacred site near Mount Hood
By Danielle Harrison
Smoke Signals editor
The federal government has agreed to restore a Native American sacred site on Highway 26 near Mount Hood, 15 years after bulldozing it to add a turn lane to the highway.
In Slockish v. U.S. Department of Transportation, members of the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation and the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde asked the U.S. Supreme Court last year to hold the federal government accountable for needlessly destroying the site in 2008.
On Thursday, Oct. 5, the government agreed to replant a grove of trees, pay for the reconstruction of a stone altar and recognize the historic use of the site by Native Americans.
The site is known as Ana Kwna Nchi Nchi Patat, “Place of Big Big Trees,” and is located along an ancient Native American trading route. It included ancestral grave sites, a campground, old-growth trees and a stone altar on less than an acre of land.
According to a press release from the nonprofit religious freedom group Becket, Grand Ronde Tribal Elder Carol Logan, who is a spiritual practitioner, and Yakama Nation Hereditary Chief Wilbur Slockish regularly visited the site for decades to pray, meditate and pay respects to their ancestors.
“In 2008, the U.S. Federal Highway Administration ignored Tribal members’ pleas to protect the site and bulldozed it to add a turn lane to U.S. Highway 26, even while admitting it could have added the turn lane without harming the site,” the release stated.
Logan said that Native American sacred places deserve respect.
“Our sacred places may not look like the buildings where most Americans worship, but they deserve the same protection, dignity, and respect,” Logan said. “It is heartbreaking that even today the federal government continues to threaten and destroy Native American sacred sites, but I’m hopeful that our story and this settlement agreement can help prevent similar injustices in the future.”
“Sacred sites like Ana Kwna Nchi Nchi Patat are irreplaceable to Tribal people and their preservation and protection is something that we should all care about,” Grand Ronde Tribal Council Chairwoman Cheryle A. Kennedy said. “We’d like to congratulate all the individuals who came together to take on this challenge and we are excited to see the site restored.”
After failed negotiations with the government to restore the site, the Tribal members continued with their claims in federal court. In 2018, a lower court decided that federal law does not prohibit the government from destroying sacred sites located on federal land. This decision was affirmed by the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Then, the Tribal members asked the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the lower court’s decision, which led the federal government to agree to settle the case and make efforts to restore the site, which is expected to be complete in 2024.
“Our nation has a long, dark history of needlessly destroying Native American sacred sites without consequence,” Becket Vice President and Senior Counsel Luke Goodrich said. “While the government can never entirely undo the damage it caused in this case, we hope this is the start of a new chapter in which our nation’s promise of religious freedom will fully extend to Native American ceremonial, cultural and religious ways of life, as it should have all along.”