In 2008, the United States Federal Highway Administration bulldozed a longstanding sacred site in Oregon to add a turning lane to a nearby highway.
Today, Members of the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation and the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde were at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals seeking justice.
The sacred site sat near the Mount Hood area in Oregon, where Indigenous people used the land to fish, hunt, gather food and medicine, bury those who have died, and perform religious ceremonies for centuries.
In 2008, tribal members plead with the Federal Highway Administration to save the less-than-one-acre site, but they chose destroy the ancient sacred stone altar and burying ancestral grave sites to make way for a highway turn lane.
“We have been waiting for over a decade for this injustice to be set right,” Tribal Elder of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, Carol Logan said.
“It is past time for the court to recognise that without our sacred land, our religious traditions will be lost.”
Tribal members argued in federal court that the sacred site should have been protected under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), the Free Exercise Clause of the Constitution, and several environmental laws.
However in February of 2021, the lower court ruled that federal law does not prevent the government from destroying Native American sacred sites.
Tribal leaders are now asking the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to provide justice for the destroyed site and assurances that this will not happen again.
“The government’s priorities were made abundantly clear when they decided to raze a sacred site into oblivion but protected a tattoo parlour on the other side of the highway,” Joe Davis, counsel for Becket said.
“Native Americans have faced injustice from the United States government since before our nation’s founding and the discrimination isn’t over yet.”
By Teisha Cloos