(Kaylee McGhee, Liberty Headlines) Native Americans in Oregon are seeking justice in federal court after the government bulldozed their sacred burial ground during road construction.
In 2008, the government needlessly destroyed a stone altar, a burial ground, a campground, and other parts of three Native American tribes’ religious rituals as part of a highway-widening project. Becket, a religious liberty law firm, said government officials could easily have avoided the destruction by widening the road on the other side, or using a retaining wall.
Becket said the government has spent the time and money to use protective retaining walls in past projects, citing a recent example of their decision to use the barriers to protect a nearby wetland and tattoo parlor.
“When it’s an endangered species, wetlands, or even a nearby tattoo parlor, the government finds a way to protect it; but when it’s a Native American sacred site, they unleash the bulldozers and chainsaws,” said Luke Goodrich, deputy general counsel at Becket. “After taking this land from the tribes in 1855, the government now has the gall to claim that it can destroy it because it is ‘government land.’ But it’s not 1855 anymore.”
Members of three Native American tribes took the government to court in 2008, and have spent the last several years in dialogue with government representatives, according to Native News Online.
The negotiations failed, however, forcing the tribes to return to court to seek what they believe to be justice for their trampled religious rights.
“The government has callously and needlessly destroyed a sacred Native American burial ground, and now it refuses to make things right,” Goodrich said. “Although the government left the other side of the highway untouched, it bulldozed the burial site, lost sacred stone markers and removed safe access to the site. All the tribal members ask is that their beliefs and sacred sites be respected.”
Plaintiff Johnny Jackson, a hereditary chief of the Klickitat and Cascade Tribes of the Yakima Nation, said if the government is able to destroy one group’s religious property, they will do so to any and every religious group.
“To me, this site was like a church. One that never had walls, or a roof, or a floor, but it was still just as sacred,” he said. “If the government can callously destroy our place of worship, it could do the same to any other group.”Click here for reuse options!
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