Today, President Barack Obama signed into law legislation championed by U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) that enables the Quileute Nation to move to higher ground, away from the danger of a Pacific tsunami and persistent Quillayute River flooding. The bill, H.R. 1162, passed the U.S. House of Representatives on Monday, February 6, and passed the Senate by unanimous consent on Monday, February 13. Click here to watch a video of Senator Cantwell speaking on the floor following Senate passage earlier this week.
Congressman Norm Dicks (D-WA-06) is the primary sponsor of the legislation in the House, and Cantwell, a member of the Indian Affairs Committee, is the primary sponsor of the legislation (S.636) in the Senate. Sen. Cantwell and Rep. Dicks introduced the legislation in the Senate and House on March 17, 2011.
"With the President's signature today, the long-awaited move out of harm's way can finally begin for the Quileute," said Cantwell. "We are proud of the many supporters who came together over the years to make today a reality. This is an important victory for the safety and future of the Quileute Nation. Every day, Quileute students go to school in a schoolhouse that is just feet above sea level. Today, we have taken the first step toward moving those students to safety. The Quileute Nation can finally move forward to proactively protect its people from the threat of a devastating tsunami."
The Quileute Tribal Reservation consists of one square mile of land, at the edge of the Pacific Ocean and surrounded by the Olympic National Park with many steep, unbuildable areas. As a result, the tribe's school, offices and homes are located right against the ocean, putting lives and property in grave danger if a catastrophic tsunami were to occur. The legislation signed into law today enables the tribe to relocate to new land out of the tsunami flood zone.
"I am so excited to hear the news today about the passage of the bill!" said Quileute Chairman Tony Foster on Monday, February 13, following Senate passage of the bill. "I am overwhelmed with emotions and so grateful that our tribe will actually be able to move our elders and children out of the path of a tsunami and up to higher ground. Our tribal school, senior center, administrative offices and elders situated in the lower village, will all benefit from the passage of this legislation. Our sincerest appreciation to Senator Cantwell for all the hard work she put behind the passage of this legislation. We also want to thank the National Park Service for their work on the settlement that led to the legislation. To all the tribal members who have worked tirelessly on this legislation for many decades, we hold you in our hearts today as we humbly share with the world that our prayers have been answered."
The legislation signed into law today authorizes the transfer of appropriate tracts of higher elevation land from Olympic National Park, which borders the Quileute Tribal Reservation, enabling the tribe to relocate out of a flood zone. These tracts would be added to other parcels of lands held in trust for the Nation in order to form a contiguous area upon which the tribe's school, a daycare center, the elder center, tribal government offices, and several tribal members' homes could be constructed.
Representing years of work by stakeholders, the legislation also settles, by mutual agreement, a longstanding dispute between the Olympic National Park and the tribe over the northern boundary of the reservation. In addition, the bill guarantees permanent public access to the magnificent Rialto and Second beaches on the Washington coast.
At an Indian Affairs hearing on April 14, 2011, the Department of the Interior added its backing to Cantwell's Quileute tsunami protection legislation. Also at the April 14 hearing, Bonita Cleveland, former chair of the Quileute Nation, explained how there is only one road that connects the lower village to higher ground, and it is often buried under several feet of water when flooded, which Cleveland said occurs every winter.