After last month’s Japanese tsunami, some coastal Northwest Indian tribes are expressing new urgency about the same danger they face. Two Washington tribes actually have plans to move parts of their villages to higher ground.
One of those is the Quileute Nation, which achieved accidental fame through the Twilight vampire saga.
A U.S Senate Committee took up their tsunami relocation request Thursday. Tom Banse reports from the town of La Push, on the Washington Coast.
The Quileute Indian Reservation is all of one square mile. It’s surrounded on three sides by the lush rainforest of Olympic National Park and on fourth side by the Pacific Ocean.
Quileute elder DeAnna Hobson says she loves living by the water.
DeAnna Hobson: “The atmosphere I enjoy living by the ocean is sleeping with my window open to hear the sounds of the ocean.”
But the roar of the surf has more ominous dimensions now. Like everyone else, Hobson watched those unforgettable images of destruction from the Japanese tsunami last month. She describes a recurring dream.
DeAnna Hobson: “We’re up at the cemetery road and I look down and I see all this water going by. We’re trying to retrieve or throw a rope out into the water. I take my dreams seriously. Dreaming something like that, to me it is giving me a signal that something drastic is going to happen.”
The dream is not far off from what geologists say could happen here. Quileute leaders including tribal chairwoman Bonita Cleveland want to give the roughly 300 people in the lower village the option to move uphill.
Bonita Cleveland: “The number one priority is moving our children — the school children — up to higher ground. Our school is right on the ocean.”
And so is the tribal senior center, several churches and tribal headquarters. But there’s a big problem. The tribal village is already built out… right up to the edge of the tiny reservation. On the other side of the line is majestic Olympic National Park.
Bonita Cleveland: “We need more land to move our people to higher ground for the safety and protection of our community.”
Only Congress can adjust the boundaries of a national park. It’s done it before. In December, the nearby Hoh Indian Tribe received a sliver of Olympic park land to facilitate its move out of the tsunami and flood zone.
But the Quileutes are asking for much more land… about 785 acres of the park, some of it designated wilderness. The tribe is seeking to enlist an unusual ally in its cause: the huge fan base of the Twilight vampire saga.
Remember in the story, the Quileute reservation is supposedly home to fleet-footed werewolves. A Twitter feed and YouTube channel managed by the tribe tries to tell the real story.
The part of the Washington coast is popular with Twilight tourists. Their welfare actually came up at a U.S. Senate hearing called to review the proposed land transfer.
Washington’s Democratic Senator Maria Cantwell says making the tribe secure and happy ensures future public access to beautiful coastal beaches.
Maria Cantwell: “Helping the Quileute Tribe move their facilities 800 feet up and out of the tsunami zone is the primary purpose of this legislation. However, it will ensure visitors access to Second Beach, Rialto Beach and preserve thousands of acres of Olympic National Park as wilderness.”
No organized opposition to the land transfer has emerged. The National Park Service is supportive. If Congress goes along, the next hurdle is to find the money to relocate to higher ground.