As reported by Tom Banse of KUOW radio, the Yakama Nation and neighboring tribes have objected to a move by Congress to offer public access to the summit of Rattlesnake Mountain, a place tribal members consider sacred. Rattlesnake Mountain is located within the Hanford Reach National Monument near Richland, Washington.
Republican Congressman Doc Hastings authored the requirement that the federal government provide some degree of public access. The provision is now part of a defense spending bill that is expected to pass.
Access to the mountain is currently highly restricted. Philip Rigdon supervises the Yakama Nation Department of Natural Resources, and says the summit of Rattlesnake Mountain should remain off-limits to the general public.
"The mountain is a place that is critical to our culture, our religion and the ceremonies that we continue to perform today,” Rigdon said.
Representative Hastings had long sought to force the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to provide greater access to Rattlesnake Mountain. The House unanimously passed such a bill in 2013, but it died without a hearing in the Democrat-controlled Senate.
"The views of Indian tribes are legitimate, and they have a right to be heard and consulted," Hastings said during an earlier House committee hearing. "But the views of local communities and all citizens also deserve to be heard and listened to -- and there is overwhelming local public support for access to the summit of Rattlesnake Mountain. The public should expect that if they can visit the summit of Mt. Rainier, then they certainly should be allowed to the summit of Rattlesnake Mountain," Hastings said as he described the "unparalled views" of the Columbia Basin from the ridge.
The indigenous name for Rattlesnake Mountain is "Laliik." Rigdon said Columbia Plateau tribes such as the Yakama, Umatilla and Nez Perce want to preserve the "spiritual" qualities of a holy place. "It's astonishing to me that we continue this total disregard for our religion, our ceremonies and this place that has provided for us," concluded Rigdon. "Laliik is our Mount Sinai," Yakama tribal Chairman JoDe Goudy wrote in a recent letter to U.S. senators. "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 Winnebagos."