The 7.7-magnitude earthquake that struck some 400 miles northwest of La Push, Washington, on Saturday October 27 seemed to underscore the importance of the legislation that the Quileute Nation had celebrated just two days earlier.
The quake, 86 miles south of Masset in Haida Gwaii, off the north-central British Columbia coast, rattled residents badly but caused little reported damage but in Hawaii sparked a tsunami warning and then an advisory—an ominous reminder of the power of Earth’s natural forces.
“This news is so daunting and tempers the joy of our wonderful celebration less than 48 hours ago,” Quileute Nation spokeswoman Jackie Jacobs said.
Quileute knows Earth’s power all too well. The elders told of a flood that carried the Chimakum, a Quileute band, away in their canoes through a passageway in the Olympic Mountains and deposited them near Hood Canal some 100 miles east. Quileute Chairman Tony Foster remembers as a child when the storm tides would come and the lower village would be evacuated. Relatives would board up his grandmother’s home and the family would leave until the storm subsided. Debris washing up on Quileute’s shores from the March 11, 2011, quake and tsunami in Japan is a reminder that what happened on the other side of the Pacific could happen here.
So on October 25, the Quileute Nation celebrated the federal legislation, approved by Congress and signed by President Obama earlier this year, that will enable Quileute to move its administration offices, elder center, school, day care center and several homes to higher ground. Those lower-village buildings are currently 10 to 15 feet above sea level. The legislation transferred 772 acres of Olympic National Park land to the Quileute Nation. The land will be added to private land that Quileute purchased to form a contiguous area upon which to reconstruct the buildings.
Quileute hosted a potlatch in its Akalat Community Center to thank elders, past and current council members, dignitaries and others who contributed to the legislation’s passage. After the invocation, tribal schoolchildren opened the celebration with a paddle song. Gifts of Pendleton blankets, hand-carved paddles and hand-woven cedar baskets were presented. The day featured traditional songs, dancing, a salmon bake and other ancestral foods and events.
Among those speaking at the event were Judith Morris, district representative for Representative Norm Dicks, D-Port Angeles; Alexandra Fastle, Kitsap and Olympic Peninsula director for Senator Patty Murray, D-Washington; Brian Screnar, state director for Senator Maria Cantwell, D-Washington; Mystique Hurtado, executive assistant in the Governor’s Office of Indian Affairs; BIA Regional Director Stanley M. Speaks; Forks Mayor Bryon Monohon; Clallam County Commissioner Mike Doherty, and Chris Rogers of Native Vote Washington, who read a congratulatory letter on behalf of gubernatorial candidate Jay Inslee.
Buzz Bailey of the law firm Garvey Schubert Barer brought Quileute’s current and former chairpersons and council members together at the front of the room and presented the framed legislation to Chairman Foster.
Quileute Council member Lonnie Foster spoke about the importance of the day, the importance of paying respects to the elders and ancestors, and the importance of remembering the children—the beneficiaries of the legislation. Council member Naomi Jacobson dedicated a plaque "In Loving Memory" of all the individuals who have passed on but were instrumental in the effort to move to higher ground.
Council member Deanna Hobson gave a historical overview of the legislation. Council member Chas Woodruff spoke about the speed with which the bill went from the U.S. House of Representatives to the Senate to the president; the bill, HR 1162, the Quileute Tsunami and Flood Protection Act, was approved 381-7 by the House on February 6, unanimously by the Senate on February 13, and signed by the president February 27.
"Our phones were ringing off the hook with requests from the media and contractors,” Woodruff said. "This is going to be a long process that needs focused, strategic foundational planning. We have started the surveying process and will continue that component, combined with environmental and topographical surveys. Even though you may not see trees falling yet, something is always going on with the plan to move to higher ground."
Chairman Foster said President Obama “changed the future of the Quileute Tribe” with the stroke of a pen, but that the legislation took decades to accomplish.
The transfer settles a 50-year dispute between the Olympic National Park and Quileute over the northern boundary of the reservation, including land lost to the National Park because of changes in the Quillayute River’s course.
“I respectfully request you join me in thanking and acknowledging the many individuals and organizations whose hard work, unwavering determination and dedication were instrumental in the passage of this historic legislation,” Foster said. “They did it. They didn't give up no matter how long it took. The Quileute people did not lose sight of the goal. I think it is the exact message we want to convey to the younger generations: If it takes an act of Congress to accomplish the mission, then so be it."
In an earlier interview, Foster had outlined the next steps: Meetings between the community and the council, land surveys, road construction, utility installation. He said moving the school and the elder center top the priority list. The future of existing buildings in the flood and tsunami zone has not been decided, he said.
“We’re going to take it one step at a time,” Foster said.
More on the legislation and on earthquake dangers in the Northwest: