The Yakama Nation wants better collaboration between Native American tribes and state and local agencies when permitting green energy projects to protect culturally sensitive areas.

Yakama Nation Tribal Council Chairman Gerald Lewis explained the tribe’s concerns in a Nov. 14 letter to Gov. Jay Inslee.

The letter comes a month after the Yakamas had a government to government meeting with Inslee and delegates from other tribes at Legends Casino west of Toppenish on the Yakama Reservation.

The gathering was held to discuss the impacts of climate change and concerns of green energy projects sited in culturally sensitive areas.

The letter didn’t specify any projects, but tribal spokeswoman Andrea Tulee said the tribe is opposed to the Goldendale Pumped Storage project.

The proposed $2 billion project to be sited in the Columbia River Gorge involves constructing two water reservoirs that pump water back and forth through turbines to generate electricity.

In the letter to Inslee, Lewis requested tribes be given more notice of such projects, cultural surveys be required, more training for state and local agencies on cultural preservation, and developers be held responsible for identifying solutions in culturally significant areas.

Inslee is reviewing the letter as he develops budget and policy procedures to improve clean energy and transmission siting for the 2023 legislative session, said spokesman Mike Faulk.

“Tribal consultation is of the highest priority for state agencies as they analyze renewable energy projects,” Faulk said. “The governor was grateful for the chance to meet with the Yakama Nation in October to discuss clean energy siting — which he has done with a number of tribal government representatives in recent months — and to receive the Yakamas’ letter this week.”

Lewis said tribes need one year notice of such projects with adequate project information to determine if it will harm cultural resources. Time is needed for cultural surveys.

In the letters, Lewis also said state departments such as Natural Resources, Fish and Wildlife and Ecology need more training and collaboration with the Department of Archeology and Historic Preservation.

“State entities need to be empowered to screen and reject more development proposals or hold county permitting staff accountable for avoidance-first policy, when DAHP’s archeological database already identifies important cultural resources,” Lewis said.

Lewis said priority should be given to developers willing to partner with tribes to assure responsible siting and that Indian Country receive benefits rather than burdens from such projects.

He also requested that Inslee’s office conduct a study on the impacts of green energy projects on cultural resources and that transmission corridors not be allowed in culturally significant areas.

Like many tribes throughout the state, the Yakamas rely on natural foods such as various roots, berries and medicinal plants as well as fish, deer and elk, all important to their culture.

The Yakamas still hold cultural ties and interest in the more than 11 million acres ceded under the 1855 Treaty.

Lewis also said the Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council, a state agency that reviews solar and wind projects, needs to be bound by the mission of the Healthy Environment for All Act (HEAL Act), which aims to eliminate environmental and health disparities among communities of color and low income households.

“Important health impacts specific to Native communities are overlooked and traditional first foods including treaty-reserved fish, game, berries and roots continue to be lost to development pressure,” Lewis said.

Inslee is working on ways to provide early tribal engagement that would build on existing policy strengthening tribal consultation on the Climate Commitment Act and the EFSEC process, Faulk said.

Reach Phil Ferolito at pferolito@yakimaherald.com.

Yakima County Government, Lower Valley Reporter

Hi, I’m Phil Ferolito, longtime reporter with the Yakima Herald-Republic, where I have gained an array of experience from covering small city governments and school districts to big-picture issues concerning county government, crime and the Yakama Nation, a federally recognized tribe with important historical and cultural ties to the land. 

I began with the Herald-Republic in Oct. 2000 as a copy editor, designing pages, writing headlines and proof-reading stories. Over the years I have covered four Lower Valley municipalities, Granger, Toppenish, Wapato and Harrah, and the Yakama Nation. My goal always has been to shine a light in dark places and bring readers closer to concerning issues, important people, and other events in our community.  

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