After court battles, physical confrontations, and tough negotiations that stretched over many years, members of the Yakama Nation were finally able to peacefully celebrate the purchase of 33 acres at Lyle Point.
On May 15, about 150 Yakama leaders, tribal members, and other supporters held a public ceremony, which included traditional tribal songs and drumming, at the site to signify the purchase from Trust for Public Land (TPL).
Tribal members consider the land at Lyle Point sacred to the tribe. It had been a Yakama village, a tribal burial ground, and fishing site for thousands of years, but the tribal people lost their traditional access to Lyle Point after white settlers moved to the area in the mid-1800s.
"This is a great day for the Yakamas -- to get the land returned back for access to our fishing right areas. The younger generation will continue to exercise their Creator-given right to our very important salmon. The U.S. government promised us with their honorable word to uphold their trust responsibility. All Yakamas will benefit with this accomplishment by the current Tribal Council officials," said Lavina Washines, chair of the Yakama Nation Tribal Council.
The peninsula at Lyle Point is adjacent to where the Klickitat River flows into the Columbia.
"The river of life gives us all we need," said one of the nine tribal elders who addressed the gathering under a huge tent. "It is with great great honor that I am here drumming and singing songs. It is great to be back at this place where I grew up with my uncle, gathering salmon for the longhouse and bringing our young men down and teaching them the things we have been taught."
"It was a long hard task to regain ownership of this land for our people. It is a momentous occasion for our tribe," added another elder.
Representatives of Trust for Public Land said the conveyance of the land to the Yakamas is the culmination of a decades-long effort by Yakama Nation leaders to regain land they had used for fishing for thousands of years.
"Today marks the return and protection of sacred land known as `Nanainmi Waki Uulktt' -- place where the wind blows from two directions -- to the Yakama people," said Charles F. Sams III, Director of TPL's tribal and native lands program. "Lyle Point was once a village of the Cascade and Klickitat bands, and is now a protected burial site of the Yakama Nation."
The transaction was announced on May 8. No dollar figure for the land purchase had been made publicly available as of press time on Tuesday.
The scenic Lyle Point area has long been a site for controversy. It was controversial when a Hood River developer planned to build more than 30 upscale homes as part of a gated community there in the 1990s, and it was controversial when Trust For Public Land bought the property from a developer in order to see it preserved as a culturally significant natural area.
TPL began its effort to protect Lyle Point in 1992. That was the year Klickitat County approved a subdivision plan that called for dividing the Lyle Point property into 33 lots.
Tribal members and environmental groups began a series of protests that included an occupation and encampment on the site. In September 1993, tribal members set up a teepee village and lit a "sacred fire" that they kept burning until Klickitat County officials finally ordered it extinguished as a fire hazard.
In August 1994, the Klickitat County Sheriff's Office arrested 24 people for trespassing on Lyle Point. Those arrested were supporting the Yakama's right to regain the land.
In 1994, the Yakama and Warm Springs Tribes filed a lawsuit against the landowners, Klickitat Landing Partners, owned by a Hood River-based developer. Protesters picketed the offices of local Realtors who were listing the lots at Lyle Point.
In 2000, TPL acquired 27 of the lots from Klickitat Landing Partners. Two years later, TPL acquired the remaining four lots from another party.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had previously purchased two other lots for use as an in-lieu fishing site for Columbia River tribal fishermen. The small in-lieu site has been in use there for the past several years.