Native Americans faced untold horrors in the earliest days of American colonization, but the mistreatment isn’t just fodder for the history books. One of the most recent examples involved a construction project in 2008 that added a lane to Highway 26 in Oregon … at the cost of a site sacred to local indigenous people.
A 15-year battle
In the years since the project was completed, members of the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation and the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde have fought in court for a federal acknowledgement of the destruction as well as help restoring the site known as Place of Big Big Trees.
The area is special to these Native groups for several reasons, including:
- Its burial ground
- Various medicinal plants
- Old Douglas Fir trees
- Its historic campsite
- A stone altar
This case advanced through the judicial system and reached the nation’s highest court before the two sides reached a settlement announced on Thursday.
A time of healing
As a result of the deal, several federal agencies including the Transportation Department will replant trees on the land and rebuild the altar. The government will also provide necessary maintenance and install a sign explaining the cultural significance of the site.
While it does not take away the sense of loss that so many of the Native Americans feel, it might end up being a step toward increased justice for tribes across the nation.
“Our sacred places may not look like the buildings where most Americans worship, but they deserve the same protection, dignity, and respect,” said Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde elder Carol Logan.
She expressed hope that this incident will serve to prevent other sacred sites from meeting the same fate.