The Sauk-Suiattle Tribe has received the State of Washington’s highest honor for its assistance in the aftermath of Oso landslide, which wiped out a neighborhood and killed 43 people on March 22, 2014.
Gov. Jay Inslee presented the Medal of Valor to the Sauk-Suiattle Tribe and to the communities of Arlington, Darrington and Oso on March 18. The Medal of Valor has historically been awarded to “any person who has saved, or attempted to save, the life of another at the risk of serious injury or death to himself or herself.” Legislation passed this year and signed by Inslee updated the statute so that the medal can be awarded to communities as well.
Sauk-Suiattle is located 21.5 miles east of the landslide area. The landslide cut off access to Interstate 5 and major economic, employment, and medical amenities in the region. Residents east of the landslide area had to drive more than 90 miles using an alternate route to get to Interstate 5.
After the landslide, Sauk-Suiattle expanded hours at its gas station, the only station in the town of Darrington, provided gas at cost to emergency responders, and honored gas cards provided to residents by FEMA. Sauk-Suiattle Vice Chairman Kevin Lenon, who is also a volunteer firefighter with the Darrington Fire Department, and other Sauk-Suiattle citizens assisted in search, rescue, and recovery efforts. Sauk-Suiattle helped raise money for a victims’ relief fund, and helped get food and emergency supplies to community members in need.
“No one can explain the unnatural landslide event and we are shocked and saddened that our friends and neighbors of Oso, Washington lost their lives in such a massive shift of the earth,” a message on the Sauk-Suiattle Tribe’s website states. “There were families, mothers and fathers, grandparents and aunts and uncles and so many precious children. And there were visiting individuals who were traveling through the area.”
Sauk-Suiattle conducted sacred ceremonies in the area – smudging and feeding the river – in reverence of Mother Earth and to offer gratitude to the Creator “that these lives were shared with us for a time.”
Sauk-Suiattle dedicated its honor from the state “to the lives lost, to those who worked so diligently to save lives and recover those who suffered death. And in their honor we pledge to work diligently with our neighboring communities, cities and governments to build a bright world of earthly beauty and a healthy human spirit.”