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Hanford Site Celebrates National Native American Heritage Month with Educational Workshops

November 28, 2012 - 12:23pm


*Editor's Note: This article was originally posted in the Office of Environmental Management's EM Update, Volume 4, Issue 11, November 2012.

RICHLAND, Wash. – Each November, in honor of Native American Heritage Month, the Richland Operations Office at the Hanford site offers educational programs on local Native American topics for federal and contractor employees.

The Energy Department interacts and consults with three federally recognized tribes affected by Hanford operations, including the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation, the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation and the Nez Perce Tribe. The Wanapum people also had close ties to the site and are consulted on issues.

 At Hanford and throughout the Energy Department complex, the Offie of Environmental Management is committed to its nuclear cleanup program. Many of their sites are close or adjacent to Tribal nations and impact Indian lands and resources. Consistent with the Department's American Indian & Alaska Native Policy, the Office of Environmental Management program maintains cooperative agreements with the Tribal nations to enhance their involvement in cleanup decisions while protecting relevant Tribal rights and resources.

 At Hanford this month, Pat Courtney Gold, a Wasco native from the Upriver Branch of the Chinook Nation in Oregon, talked with the Hanford site employees about the culture and history of the native people of the area surrounding the Columbia River, which runs adjacent to Hanford.

Gold, who was raised on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation in Oregon, summarized the history and culture that is common to the Plateau Nations. About 50 native nations lived in the Columbia River Plateau for more than 12,000 years. The Tribal nations had their own languages for the extensive Columbia River Trade Network, as well as unique cultural traditions that included carvings, weavings, drawings and clothing.

Gold’s presentation came after more than 70 managers from Richland Operations Office and the Office of River Protection, as well as contractor management, attended a training program to learn about the Energy Departments work with Indian Tribes earlier this fall.

The frequency in which managers at Hanford meet with Tribes increases as the Office of Environmental Management cleans up the areas of the Columbia River region where Tribal people lived and gathered.

“Working with our Tribal partners is essential,” Richlands Operations Office Deputy Manager Doug Shoop said as he opened the meeting and introduced Wanapum Tribal Leader Rex Buck.

Buck’s family has resided in the area for decades and his grandfather met with Col. Franklin Mathias, who chose the location for the Hanford site, to discuss issues in the 1940s. Buck talked about his connection to the land.

 “We've always been here. We will always be here. This is the land we are here to care for and we will continue to do so," he said.

Along with providing a traditional perspective and history, Richland Operations Office Tribal Program Manager Jill Conrad talked about the Energy Department's Indian Order and Policy and the tribal consultation conducted at Hanford. Connie Smith, Richland Operations' Office of Legal Counsel, provided a legal perspective of the government-to-government obligation, and Mona Wright, Richland Operations' Cultural Resources Manager, discussed the cultural resource process and sensitivities. Most popular was a presentation given by Cultural Resources Protection Program Manager Teara Farrow Ferman of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation. Her presentation was titled “First Foods & the Importance of Place in Indigenous Food Culture.” Ferman discussed how the traditional concepts of first foods are used in natural resources management at her Tribe.

Click here for more information about the Tribal Programs at Hanford.