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President Sharp Testifies on Behalf of Quinault Nation

March 27, 2016

            WASHINGTON D.C. (3/17/16)—Fawn Sharp, President of the Quinault Indian Nation, told the House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee this morning that because the United States has fallen short of meeting its treaty obligations and trust responsibilities, Quinault must spend $4.4 million in tribal generated funds annually to supplement lapses in Federal funding. “That’s funding we desperately need for other priorities,” she said.

 

            Quinault Indian Nation, signatory to the Treaty of Olympia with the United States, consists of 207,150 acres of forest lands, mountains, rivers and a lake bordering the Pacific Ocean in western Washington State. 

 

            Sharp, who also presides over the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians and is Vice President of the National Congress of American Indians, requested support for line item requests by federal agencies supporting climate change response and enforcement programs for tribes across the country totaling $209.6 million as well as $11.3 million to help support Quinault Nation programs in salmon habitat restoration programs and road construction and improvement.

 

            Sharp provided details on these needs and others, and their connection with a major project underway at Quinault Nation—relocation of its Lower Village of Taholah. The relocation is necessary due to climate change-related sea level rise, consequent ocean encroachment on the village, flooding of the village—particularly during intensified storms, inadequacy of a protective seawall and the all-too-likely strike of a tsunami. 

 

            The Quinault relocation project has five components:  (1) Land Acquisition; (2) Master Planning for Upper Village Development and Lower Village Reclamation; (3) Infrastructure Development; (4) Engineering and Architectural Planning; and (5) Workforce Development and Construction.  Completion of the project is estimated to be 10 to 20 years. 

 

            “We hope to secure funding for the relocation project through a combination of public and private sources,” she said. “This is a very dangerous situation and our people are at risk. We have to make this move as quickly and as efficiently as we can and we need the support of our federal trustee to do it,” she said.

 

            The first phase of the plan is the acquisition of 246 acres of individual land allotments in the proposed Upper Village, all of which have fractionated undivided interests.

 

            “The Quinault Indian Nation will work cooperatively with the Bureau of Indian Affairs to buy the individual allotments to be taken into tribal trust for uses that will benefit the entire community. The new village will accommodate approximately 400 building sites for housing and locations for over 200,000 square-feet of community buildings.  The new building sites will accommodate the 175 houses from the lower village, 129 families on the Quinault Housing Authority's waiting list and additional sites for future community growth,” she said.

 

            There will be approximately 7 miles of new streets, utilities and related infrastructure.  The existing domestic water well and associated pipeline would likely be destroyed during a subduction zone earthquake and related tsunami. Therefore, another water source is being sought. The Master Plan calls for the protection of the existing wastewater treatment plant with an armored berm to shield it from the predicted tsunami.

 

            ‘We applaud the Department of the Interior for including a $15.1 million increase over 2016 to help tribes prepare and respond to climate change. We urge the subcommittee to direct the BIA to prioritize spending for tribes on the front lines of climate change, and include report language that mandates funding criteria, drafted in consultation with the tribes,” she said.

 

            “Quinault supports the efforts of Congressman (Derek) Kilmer to provide direct funding, via preventative measures, to protect and preserve costal tribal communities through the Tribal Coastal Resiliency Act. While working to relocate, we must not allow our culture and heritage to be destroyed by natural disaster. The Tribal Coastal Resiliency Act will give tribes the needed resources to ensure their heritage areas are protected,” President Sharp told the subcommittee.

 

            Sharp’s testimony also focused on needs for additional access roads, to restore the Blueback salmon in the Upper Quinault River and for funding to support drug interdiction.

 

            “Access to the village is cut off during natural disasters and weather events such as downed trees, mudslides, and treacherous conditions that make the road impassible. This is a serious concern for our people. When access is cut off, emergency vehicles are unable to reach or leave the villages.  The lack of adequate emergency response recently contributed to the death of an elder. Our community remains vulnerable to similar emergency response failures if we do not address this critical concern,” said Sharp. Her proposal included a $3.5 million project to provide an additional access route. She also urged support for a $26.7 million funding by BIA’s Road Maintenance Program to address the transportation safety concerns of other tribal communities, and inclusion of language giving funding priority to tribes with safety and emergency access concerns.

 

            Sharp told the committee of the need to support its Blueback Salmon and Upper Quinault River Restoration project.

 

            The Quinault Nation is leading the effort to restore the Upper Quinault River and the productivity of sockeye salmon known to the Quinault people as ‘Blueback.’

            “It is our most important salmon resource, and it spawns only in the Upper Quinault River,” said Sharp.

 

            The Blueback, as well as other salmon stocks native to the river, have significantly declined over the past 50 years due primarily to habitat loss associated with instability of the river caused by the removal of floodplain forests and other associated factors, not done by the Quinaults.

 

            In 2008, the tribe developed a river restoration plan to restore the Upper Quinault River.  Numerous Federal and Washington State agencies, and coalition groups support the tribe’s plan. Quinault Nation has raised and invested approximately $8.6 million to support the project over the past decade through a combination of state legislative funding appropriations, grant funding, and tribal dollars. To date the project has restored 2.5 miles of salmon habitat, helped to sustain dozens of jobs, and provided benefits to private landowners, local businesses, and other local stakeholders.

 

            “We have made significant progress, but there is still much to be done to achieve full restoration,” she said.

 

            She urged the subcommittee to provide $7.8 million over a period of five years to support the restoration project. The funds would support allow the restoration of 7.7 miles of river, 860 acres of new floodplain, 140 engineered logjams, 537 acres of new forest and 61 permanent and seasonal jobs.

 

            President Sharp also told the subcommittee that because the Quinault Reservation is remote and includes more than 200,000 acres of forest land and 25 miles of undeveloped coastline, there are many secluded entry points where organized criminal enterprises have plagued the community. Also, Highway 101 passes through the Quinault Reservation and has been a major route for drug trafficking. There are strict anti-drug laws on the Reservation, and tribal police are well trained and dedicated to dealing with the challenge. However, its 10-person police force currently has no jurisdiction over non-tribal offenders. In 2012, tribal police, working with federal, state and local officials worked an investigation that uncovered black tar heroin and liquid methamphetamine, and led to 17 arrests of persons with ties to drug cartels.

 

            “We continue to work with federal and local law enforcement to intercept those engaging in criminal activity on our Reservation. We have a current case of possible smuggling that we are working with the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol on at this time. They and the FBI and DEA have limited resources to assist in long-term interdiction and Quinault is in need of more federal assistance in this area. As we continue to build a closer relationship with the local U.S. Attorney's office and the FBI, our ability to fight drug-related crime has improved. We are currently discussing obtaining authority from the U.S. Attorney's office to allow us to issue violation notices to non-tribal people for minor offenses, which will help with the non-tribal population committing offenses on our lands. However, access to federal grant programs, specifically for drug interdiction are difficult to obtain.  While Quinault invests $970,000 in tribal funds annually in law enforcement activities, including drug interdiction, this is not enough to adequately address and prevent this activity,” said Sharp.

 

            “We support the overall budget request of $194.5 million for criminal investigations and police services.  However we urge the subcommittee to increase the line item funding within criminal investigations to combat drug trafficking and crime in Indian Country and ask that report language be included to ensure that these funds can be used by all coastal and border tribes which are among the most susceptible to drug cartels and smugglers,” she said.

 

            “The Quinault Indian Nation is taking steps to build a brighter future for our people.  We are guided by our traditions and deep desire to control our own destiny. We are doing our part to improve the lives of our people and to create opportunity on the Reservation, but we can't do it alone.  We urge the subcommittee to honor treaty and trust responsibilities to Quinault and to support our requests,” said President Sharp.

 

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