Tucked within the 1,000-page defense bill just passed by the Senate is a provision that would open to the public the summit of Rattlesnake Mountain — a site considered sacred by members of the Yakama Nation.
The mountain, known as “Laliik” to the Yakamas, lies in the Hanford Reach National Monument and, for the most part, public access is now restricted. But opening the area for more public use has long been a goal of outgoing Congressman Doc Hastings.
Hastings had sponsored similar bills that never gained traction in the Senate. This time he added a provision to the National Defense Authorization Act for 2015, a vast, $580 billion piece of legislation that covers military spending with a host of other land-management issues tacked on.
The act also includes provisions to turn Hanford’s B Reactor into a tourist destination as part of a new Manhattan Project National Historical Park.
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The measure easily passed the House earlier, and with Senate passage it now goes to President Obama for his signature.
Opening Rattlesnake Mountain to the public, especially motorized access, is a concern for the Yakama Nation, Tribal Council Chairman JoDe Goudy wrote to Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray in October.
“Senators, Laliik is our Mount Sinai,” Goudy wrote. “When our Long House leaders feel that a young adult is ready and worthy, Laliik is where they are sent to fast and to have vision quests. This is not a place for Airstreams and Winnebegos.”
Goudy did not return a request for comment.
At 3,600 feet, Rattlesnake Mountain is the tallest point in the Mid-Columbia region, providing vast views of the Hanford Reach National Monument and the Columbia River. In 2007, in recognition of its spiritual significance to the Yakamas, the Department of Energy designated it a Traditional Cultural Property.
The Yakamas have tried to use that designation to fight public access before. In April, the tribe went to court to block U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from taking people on wildflower tours on the mountain. But a federal judge denied the tribe’s request, ruling that the carefully managed tours would not damage the site.
In his letter, Goudy wrote that building roads to allow safe motorized access to the mountain’s summit would certainly be considered damaging to the sacred site.
Hastings, however, has repeatedly said that everyone should have an opportunity to enjoy the area.