In the recent Columbia Gorge News’ report, “Energy Storage Project Moving Forward,” Eric Steimle, vice president of project development for Rye Development, is pictured posing on a hillside, an area that Rye would destroy as part of its pumped-storage hydroelectric development. An unabashed portrait, atop an article that only mentions the “potential” for loss or damage to tribal culturally significant resources once and as part of the development’s “environmental impacts.”
Well, that’s a glossy summary for destroying at least six culturally significant sites and traditional cultural properties, including archaeological, ceremonial, burial petroglyph, monumental and ancestral use sites. Those sites were identified and mapped by the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation (Yakama Nation).
The article fails to mention other tribes, like the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation (CTUIR) and the Nez Perce Tribe, have also requested opportunities to conduct similar surveys of the area in late 2020.
I guess tribal cultural and religious resources don’t count for much in the United States’ insatiable energy and technologically progressive developments. I’m not surprised. Just look at my people’s fight against a proposed copper mine at our sacred site of Oak Flat or Kanaka Maoli, defending Mauna Kea from a mega-telescope development.
Why is it so easy for people to blatantly ignore Indigenous voices when we say ‘No, you can’t build here without destroying something sacred to us?’ There is no cost benefit analysis for us, just continued colonial destruction of our cultures.
Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners, Rye’s backers, claim that it invests in projects with a good positive impact on local communities is hypocritical. Backers of the pumped-storage development seem to completely disregard the Ka-miltpa Band (one of the Bands who make up the Yakama Nation), whose ancestral homeland Steimle stands on and where Rye’s development is proposed, who use this area for traditional food and medicine gathering, whose Band members fish and maintain fishing platforms directly below the proposed site, whose creation story encompasses that very hill. At least we know outright that the Danish Company does not view the Ka-miltpa Band as the local community. I don’t know what is the local community, if not the Indigenous people who have been there since time immemorial.
Readers and development proponents must take comfort in seeing Steimle beaming atop that hill, a green energy beacon of progress coming to save the region from climate change, while doling out jobs, hooray. They must think that the benefits of this development certainly outweigh any impacts.
But that’s not true. Historically and currently, green-energy development in Oregon and Washington has disproportionately impacted tribal resources and communities, while benefits have gone to wealthier, whiter communities.
Just look at the dams in the Columbia River, which flooded ancestral tribal villages, displacing Indian people without the relocation or funds given to white communities impacted. Or the thousands of acres of wind turbines throughout the region impacting Treaty-guaranteed usual and accustomed hunting and gathering areas. Someone please trace where this “green energy” has gone, because I guarantee it has not gone to tribal communities.
Bottom line, green energy or not, developments must be sited in a manner that does not place the disproportionate development burden on tribal communities or other communities of color. Period.
Simone Anter, Jicarilla Apache/Yaqui, is staff attorney for Columbia Riverkeeper.