The Chairwoman of the Quileute Tribe says Mother Nature is forcing the tribe off the land that they were forced onto by the U.S. government.
Quileute Tribal Chairperson Bonita Cleveland told a U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee the tribe must move if it is to survive.
"Some ask why we have located our tribal infrastructure in harm's way, but those who know the sadness of the Native American tribes of Washington State know the answer: our tribe was forced onto a one-square-mile reservation, with one way in and one way out," Cleveland said in written testimony presented to the subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands.
Cleveland testified at a Sept. 15 legislative hearing before the committee in support of H.R. 1162, a bill introduced by U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks that would alter the footprint of the Quileute Reservation in order to protect the tribe from tsunami and flooding.
Under the legislation, federal tracts would be added to private lands that the tribe has purchased to form a contiguous area upon which the tribe's school, a day care center, the elder center, tribal government offices and several tribal members' homes could be constructed.
"Because our village is located on one square mile between the Pacific Ocean and the Olympic National Park we simply have nowhere to go," Cleveland told the committee.
"There's only one road in and one road out of La Push, and this road is usually under three to four feet of water when flooded."
U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) sponsored an identical bill, S. 636. The senate committee on Indian affairs voted to pass it in July, and it is now awaiting a floor vote, according to Jackie Jacobs, spokeswoman for the tribe.
Jacobs said the next step for the bill, on the House side, is markup in committee.
She said the tribe is extremely optimistic that its quest will come to fruition.
The legislation would also settle a longstanding dispute between the Olympic National Park and the tribe over the northern boundary of the reservation, guarantee public access to beaches on the Washington coast and designate as wilderness thousands of acres of land currently within the Olympic National Park boundary.
In her written testimony, Cleveland emphasized that the tsunami in Japan added urgency to the tribe's quest for a safer area, but did not create it: The tribe has been negotiating for higher land for 30 years.