Yakamas: Developers damaging cultural sites

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GOLDENDALE, Wash. (AP) – The manager of the Yakama Nation Cultural Resource Department says development is damaging sacred cultural sites.

No money can erase the damage to a site that should have remained untouched, frustrated Yakama elder Johnson Meninick told the Yakima Herald-Republic.

Meninick walked along a dirt access road in the Windy Flats wind farm project just south of Goldendale, Wash.

The road was intended to make way for another series of wind turbines in the 88-turbine project. It follows a ridge overlooking the Columbia River Gorge and is flanked by dozens of rock cairns – historical footprints of Meninick’s ancestors.

Developers claim they are using caution not to disturb any of the ancient rock piles that commonly mark traditional hunting and food gathering grounds and graves. But their efforts may not be enough.

The road was constructed without a required permit and the area wasn’t surveyed, said Allyson Brooks, the state Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation director in Olympia.

“Fines could be imposed if someone was negligent,” Brooks said. “A damage assessment will figure it out.”

Meninick retorted, “Now they want to mitigate. The damage is already done – what do they want to mitigate?”

Meninick says developers aren’t consulting with the tribe, and state laws protecting cultural sites don’t fully consider tribal interests.

“It’s very difficult for us to accept any damage to any site because it’s our responsibility to protect them,” he said. “We have been charged by our elders to protect these sites.”

Meninick said most developers hire archeologists who lack understanding of the tribe’s culture, and communication with tribes isn’t always the best.

And Washington state law only protects sites where artifacts or human remains are found.

Windy Flats project administrator Brandy Myers said developers are being careful and have identified and avoided more than 150 cultural sites.

She also said that a permit wasn’t sought for the road because developers weren’t aware of any cultural sites in that area. A permit is only required if a known cultural site exists.

“It wasn’t a known site,” she said. “It was something that happened accidentally.”

Myers said fabric was put down before the gravel road was installed to protect the ground beneath.

After the project is complete, the road will be narrowed and restoration work done along the areas disturbed, she said.

Rep. Bruce Chander, R-Granger, said state lawmakers in recent years have taken a more proactive approach to protecting cultural sites while allowing development.

“There are people who wish non-Indians weren’t here and there are people who wish Indians weren’t here,” he said. “But I think the state’s role is to protect legitimate interests and balance the competing demands.”

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