- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 15, 2017

GOVERNMENT CAMP, Ore. (AP) - Native American tribe elders in Oregon are suing the state based on claims that it destroyed a sacred site to expand a highway.

Hereditary Chiefs of the Klickitat and Cascade Tribes of the Yakama Nation filed the lawsuit last week in federal court alongside a third tribal elder with the Confederated Tribes of Grande Ronde and two nonprofit groups, The Oregonian/OregonLive reported (https://bit.ly/2x1rv1f ).

The lawsuit says the government destroyed the site in 2008 along a roughly 5-acre (20,200-square-meter) patch of land on the north side of U.S. 26.

An attorney representing the tribal elders said the tribes tried for years to work with the government to avoid a lawsuit, but were unsuccessful.

The tribes claim the government violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

The Federal Highway Administration declined to comment.

“When it’s an endangered species, wetlands, or even a nearby tattoo parlor, the government finds a way to protect it,” said Luke Goodrich, an attorney with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a public interest law firm. “But when it’s a Native American sacred site, they unleash the bulldozers and chain saws.”

The location near today’s Wildwood Recreation Site was used for centuries by tribal members to practice Washat, an ancient Yakama religion, according to court records.

The tribes used the specific site on the approach to Mt. Hood, named Ana Kwna Nchi chi Patat, or the Place of Big Big Trees, as a resting stop and religious campground.

“To me, this site was like a church. One that never had walls, or a roof, or a floor, but it was still just as sacred,” said Johnny Jackson, hereditary chief of the Cascade Tribes. “If the government can callously destroy our place of worship, it could do the same to any other group.”

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Information from: The Oregonian/OregonLive, https://www.oregonlive.com


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