|Court rules in favor of Feds in Hwy. 26 lawsuit posted on 04/01/2018|
A decade ago, the Federal Highway Administration bulldozed a
path through sacred Native American sites along Hwy. 26 in the Mountain
The project was defined as a widening of the highway.
A stone altar, campground, medicinal plants used for religious
rituals and ancient burial grounds were destroyed along the way. Members of the
Cascade and Klickitat tribes in Oregon alerted officials to the sacred nature
of the sites, but the government paid no attention.
Last month, a federal judge ruled that the government is
free to bulldoze sacred Native American burial grounds and destroy sacred
artifacts, according to the Becket law firm which is representing the tribes.
“For centuries Native Americans have endured the destruction
of sacred places by the federal government and it’s heartbreaking that the
court would say this completely preventable destruction was okay,” said Carol
Logan, member of the Confederated Tribes of Grande Ronde. “All we want is the
return of our artifacts, the rededication of the area for our ancestors, and
the promise that we can continue to worship as our tribes have done for
The court’s ruling in Slockish v. U.S. Federal Highway
Administration cites the religious freedom rights of Native Americans cannot be
used to protect their artifacts and sacred sites.
Tribal members were seeking justice under the Religious
Freedom Restoration Act of 1993. But the magistrate judge’s opinion stated
“Even where the government’s actions would virtually destroy a group’s ability
to practice their religion the Constitution simply does not provide a principle
that could justify upholding (their) legal claims.”
“The federal government has repeatedly shown a callous
disregard for Native American religious beliefs,” said Stephanie Barclay,
counsel for the non-profit, public-interest law firm of Becket. “For these
tribes, this burial ground was their church. Our religious freedom laws
wouldn’t allow the government to destroy other churches with impunity, and it shouldn’t
be any different for Native Americans.”
Plaintiffs in the case are Wilbur Slockish and Johnny
Jackson, hereditary chiefs of the Klickitat and Cascade tribes, and Carol Logan
is an enrolled member of the Grand Ronde tribe.
They are joined in the lawsuit by Cascade Geographic Society
and the Mount Hood Sacred Lands Preservation Alliance.
Tribal members plan to appeal the ruling.
By Larry Berteau/MT