The Goldendale Sentinel - Headlines & History since 1879

By Lou Marzeles

Yakamas move to protect burial ground


The Yakama Nation has issued a cease and desist order to the Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) railroad company to prevent possible damage to a newly discovered portion of a known burial ground in Klickitat County.

The railway began work on a portion of its right of way along the tracks in the county in mid October, and last week human remains were discovered in earth that had been moved. The tribe has since determined that the remains are of ancestral origin, probably connected to another larger burial ground nearby. The tribe asked that the specific location of the site not be disclosed.

“We had an incident occur last week on the Burlington Northern Railroad right of way,” said Yakama Nation chairman Harry Smiskin. “They uncovered some human remains, so we asked them to cease and desist until we could get that resolved.”

Smiskin said the current location discovery was part of a site millennia old. “Back thousands of years ago that was a campsite and burial site, when Celilo Village was very active,” he stated.

“What will happen now is our cultural resource program will go out to the site and do an assessment to see if it is a singular burial site or numerous burial sites,” Smiskin added. “They’ll take measures to protect and maybe even remove the remains from that area. We just don’t know yet what they’re going to do.” Smiskin said It’s unclear how long the process will take.

Gus Melonas, a spokesman for BNSF, said in a prepared statement from the railroad, “BNSF stopped work immediately upon being notified that bones were being unearthed during routine maintenance work on an access road adjacent to a local property. BNSF is cooperating with the Yakama Nation and other agencies, including the Washington State Department of Archeology and Historic Preservation, on this discovery.”

Smiskin was also asked about recent talks with the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) on its new Big Eddy-Knight transmission line near culturally significant sites. “We’ve come to a tentative agreement,” Smiskin said. “Actions speak louder than words, though. We’ll wait and see if they’re going to carry forward with what they’ve said they were going to do.”


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