The Quileute Indian Tribe in La Push is hopeful that it is one step closer to relocating away from the tsunami danger zone. Last Thursday (Sept. 15) Quileute members testified before the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands in support of House Bill 1162. The proposed legislation would reallocate 785 acres from the Olympic National Park to the tribe, allowing them to move to higher ground. Rep. Norm Dicks introduced the legislation March 16, 2011, following the catastrophic tsunami in Japan.
“Without this legislation, the tsunami danger could lead to the extinction of our Quileute people,” testified Bonita Cleveland, Quileute Tribal chairwoman. "We ask this Committee to understand that now is the time to protect us, before it is too late."
The village, including a school and elder center, occupies one-square mile of land located at sea level. It already suffers regular flooding, but no other land is currently available. The tribe is restricted on all sides by the neighboring national park and Pacific Ocean.
Written support was submitted from Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire, the Board of Clallam County Commissioners, and Forks Mayor Bryon Monohon. All of them advocated for the subcommittee to take immediate action and forward the bill. Monohon and Cleveland both referenced the Sept. 9 earthquake, which rattled Vancouver, B.C., with aftershocks felt along the Olympic Peninsula and Seattle, as yet another example of the imminent need.
“It served as a poignant reminder that such disastrous possibilities can occur in this region,” stated Monohon’s written testimony. Cleveland pointed out that preventative measures will also be economical in the long run.
“In comparison to the federal dollars that would be spent in responding to a tsunami that would destroy our village and injure so many, the costs of this legislation are truly insignificant,” she testified.
The bill allocates land and no direct federal funding. Only minimal costs are anticipated for surveys, title transfers, and administrative time to implement the provisions.
Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray co-sponsored sister legislation, Senate bill 636, which was approved by the Senate Indian Affairs Committee on July 28 and now awaits consideration by the full Senate.