The Hoh Tribe and the Hoh River are connected by a bond that can never be broken. Forever, as the river moved, so did the tribe.
But that came to a stop after treaty times, when the tribe was confined to a 640-acre reservation at the river’s mouth. Over the years the Hoh River has whittled the reservation to about 450 acres and much of the land floods every year.
A study of the river’s migrating main channel shows the Hoh is likely to again come barreling through the tribal center and many homes within the next 25 years. Flooding has already become an annual event in these low-lying areas.
The Hoh Tribe and the Hoh River are connected by a bond that can never be broken.
The Hoh Tribe had a choice. Build expensive dikes or other structures – which can protect the riverbank but hurt fish habitat – or move out of harm’s way.
I am encouraged by efforts to help the tribe move its tribal center and housing out of the path of the river. Salmon are the lifeblood of our people. That is especially true for Hoh tribal members who rely on fishing, both culturally and economically, on a reservation where unemployment exceeds 70 percent.
To avoid damaging fish habitat with flood control structures the tribe acquired 160 acres of state Department of Natural Resources land and 270 acres from private landowners about a mile outside the reservation and the Hoh River’s floodplain. The parcels are separated from the reservation by 37 acres of former timberlands now owned by Olympic National Park. The only road to the reservation already crosses this sliver of land.
To connect the properties the tribe and park have developed a plan to transfer title of the land to the tribe. Logging, hunting and construction would be prohibited under the agreement. The tribe is waiting for Congress to approve the transfer.
In the meantime, the tribe hopes to break ground on a public safety building this summer on some of the newly purchased land. Fire and first aid equipment will be a valuable resource for tribal and local public safety officers.
Congress needs to act now to approve the land transfer between the park and tribe. This is a good solution to a pressing problem. It’s good for the people, good for the river and good for the salmon. It will also create a place where young Hoh tribal members – who make up more than half the tribe’s membership – can plan their futures.
Billy Frank Jr., Nisqually, is chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission in Olympia, Wash., and recipient of the Indian Country Today 2004 American Indian Visionary Award.