The US government has agreed to restore a sacred First Nation site in Oregon after a 15-year battle in the Supreme Court.
The Place of Big Big trees, on the slopes of Mount Hood, was destroyed by highway construction. Now the US Department of Transportation (DOT) and other federal agencies have agreed to repair the damage done.
The legal action was brought by the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation and the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, who claimed that the adding of an additional lane to Highway 26 destroyed a burial ground, a historic campground, medicinal plants, old-growth Douglas Firs and a stone altar.
The tribes said their members had visited the site for decades to pray, gather plants and pay respects to their ancestors.
Carol Logan, an elder of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, welcomed the court’s decision. “Our sacred places may not look like the buildings where most Americans worship, but they deserve the same protection, dignity and respect,” she said in a statement shared by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represented the plaintiffs in their lawsuit.
She added: “It is heartbreaking that even today the federal government continues to threaten and destroy Native American sacred sites, but I’m hopeful that our story and this settlement agreement can help prevent similar injustices in the future.”
As well as the DOT, the defendants included Federal Highway Administration division, the Department of the Interior and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation.
Under the settlement, the government agreed to plant nearly 30 trees and maintain them through watering and other means for at least three years. They also agreed to help restore the stone altar, install a sign explaining its importance to Native Americans and grant access to the surrounding area for cultural purposes.