TOPPENISH, Wash. — A Yakama Nation elder, long regarded as a man with a deep understanding of his tribe’s culture and the environment, has died.Russell Jim died Saturday morning at age 82, according to David Humphreys of Valley Hills Funeral Home in Zillah.
“The passing of our elder Russell Jim is indeed a great loss for the Yakama Nation,” tribal chairman JoDe Goudy said in a statement to the Yakima Herald-Republic. “Mr. Jim was a man of few words, yet when he spoke he always had a lesson to share as a great leader of our way of life.
“He was passionate about our environment, the strongest advocate for righting the wrongs of the dark history of Hanford, and a faithful carrier of our Yakama culture and traditions. His passing marks the end of an era which may never be equaled.”
Jim was born on Nov. 26, 1935. Long regarded as a man with a deep understanding of his tribe’s culture, the environment and Hanford’s production of plutonium, he was instrumental in giving Native American tribes a voice at the congressional table on nuclear waste cleanup. Jim led a charge to prevent the Hanford Nuclear Reservation from becoming a nuclear waste depository.
After devising his tribe’s Environmental Restoration and Waste Management program, he spent 37 years managing it. He retired last year after nearly 60 years spent in tribal leadership roles. More that 200 family, friends and tribal officials and employees gathered in the events center of Legends Casino & Hotel to honor his decades in tribal leadership roles and to thank him for protecting the river that continues to provide his tribe with salmon and other natural foods and medicines.
He was awarded an honorary doctorate degree last summer by Heritage University for his work to remedy Hanford's legacy of nuclear waste.
"It's with great sadness that I announce the passing of Dr. Russell Jim," Andrew Sund, president of Heritage, tweeted Saturday evening. "A great leader of the Yakama nation and a true friend of Heritage.
"Our thoughts are with his family at this difficult time."
Humphreys said a horse-drawn funeral procession with scores of people is expected to go from the Toppenish Creek Longhouse to Toppenish Creek Cemetery at sunrise on Monday -- 6:26 a.m.