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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 community.

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 centuries.”

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

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