Quileute tribal chairwoman to testify to Senate committee about need for higher ground

By Paige Dickerson
Peninsula Daily News

LAPUSH — Quileute Tribal Chairwoman Bonita Cleveland will testify before the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs on Thursday to urge quick action on a bill that would enable the tribe to move to higher ground.

Identical legislation was introduced in both houses of Congress on March 17 that would transfer 772 acres of Olympic National Park land to the Quileute tribe, which lives on a 1-square-mile reservation at the mouth of the Quillayute River on the Pacific coast.

Cleveland’s testimony to the Senate committee will be broadcast live on C-SPAN at 11:45 a.m.

“I am very excited about this trip,” Cleveland said while en route to Washington, D.C.

“It’s an honor to represent my people during this historic event.

“I carry the spirit of the entire village with me as well as the spirit of all the elders and ancestors who dedicated their service to this effort.”

Only the beginning

But, she said, “this is only the beginning. We need the support of our neighbors locally and nationally.”

The legislation would give 280 acres at the south side of the reservation in LaPush to the tribe so that it can move its school, elder center, tribal administrative offices and some homes to higher ground.

The legislation also would transfer 492 acres at the northern part of the reservation to resolve a longstanding boundary dispute of more than 50 years with the park, which surrounds the reservation.

Cleveland will tell the Senate committee not only about the dangers of tsunamis, which she has said the tribe fears could strike on any day, but also about annual flooding from the Quillayute River.

She took with her a paddle for her journey. It was given to her by Al Zantua, Quileute Tribal School principal, the tribe said.

In March, the tribe released a video describing the tribe’s peril should a tsunami hit LaPush. The video is posted on the Quileute Nation website at www.quileutenation.org and on the tribe’s Youtube page at http://tinyurl.com/662qk2u.

National attention

Since then, the tribe has received national media attention.

National Public Radio visited the reservation this week.

Many publications and television stations — including media based in Washington, D.C., and Canada — have conducted interviews over the past several weeks, said tribal publicist Jackie Jacobs.

The Forks City Council unanimously voted Monday to support the efforts by the Quileute tribe.

“We urge the [Senate Committee on Indian Affairs] to act quickly on Senate Bill 636 so that the legislation can be implemented before a tsunami disaster strikes here along the Pacific Northwest coast,” said a letter from Forks Mayor Bryon Monohon on behalf of the council to the Senate committee.

“Averting such a disaster must become one of the highest priorities for all of us in the days ahead; your quick action is greatly appreciated and reassures all of us that you and your colleagues are aware of our needs in ‘the other Washington.’”

The House bill, introduced by U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Belfair, was referred to the House Committee on Natural Resources. Dicks represents the 6th Congressional District, which includes the North Olympic Peninsula.

The Senate bill, introduced by Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Mountlake Terrace, was referred to the Committee on Indian Affairs.

Call to action

“This trip [by Cleveland] is an important call to action,” said Bill Peach, executive director of the tribe.

“We are optimistic after decades of discussions that this visit will move the legislative process forward in a positive direction for the Quileute people.

“As the recent Japanese tragedy demonstrated, there are only minutes between an earthquake and the commencement of a tsunami that you have to move to higher ground,” he added.

“But first, you must have higher ground as an option to move to.”

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Reporter Paige Dickerson can be reached at 360-417-3535 or at paige.dickerson@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: April 12. 2011 10:02PM
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