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Tribal Community Overlooked In Gorge Train Derailment

Emily Schwing
Northwest News Network
Mosier, Oregon Fire Chief Jim Appleton briefs the press Saturday on an oil train derailment along the Columbia River.

A press briefing midday Saturday included spokespeople from the Union Pacific Railroad Company, officials with various environmental agencies from both Oregon and Washington, the county sheriff and even Richard Franklin, a federal-level official with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

“Yesterday afternoon, we mobilized immediately with multiple resources to assist and work in unified command with our federal state and local brethren,” Franklin said.

But the press did not hear from anyone that could speak to the concerns of the Native American tribes and nations that call the Columbia River Gorge home. David Byers with Washington State’s Department of Ecology said responders are accommodating tribal resource concerns.

“They’ve expressed concern about the species that might be impacted by the oil in the water and have been giving us advice as to how to implement our geographic strategies to protect those resources, so they have been actively involved,” Byers said. “Even though they are not here now, they have been involved.”

Meanwhile, a different scene ramped up a few miles downriver.

Lana Jack, who grew up in Celilo Village, 30 miles up the Columbia River was among the hundred or so citizens that gathered for an anti-oil train rally in Hood River.

“Our connection to this river is huge,” Jack said. “It’s our life way, there’s really no other way of putting it, whether it be the salmon or all that the water provides.”

Jack said she does feels disempowered. Even so, as Saturday’s hot sun beat down on her, she proudly beat her handmade elk-skin drum at the rally.

The train derailment happened at the start of a weekend during which tribal members are gathering to commemorate the signing of an 1855 treaty between the U.S. government and 14 bands that make up the Yakama Nation.

“I speak for those things that can’t speak for themselves,” Yakima Nation Environmental Manager Elizabeth Sanchey said. “Our fisheries, our water our land and our air and we are at risk right now and it is very disheartening.”

Sanchey did say the Yakama Nation has been included in the unified-command model response to the train derailment. She said cleanup of any spilled oil must be immediate.