- posted at 01:00PM
- March 21, 2011
- by: John Nelson
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Faced with seasonal flooding and limited land for development, the Skokomish Indian Tribe has embarked on an ambitious plan to build new neighborhoods — eventually an entirely new community — on higher ground overlooking Hood Canal. The first phase of streets and utilities is now complete and ready for the construction of new homes. Future phases are being planned to best suit the current and future needs of Skokomish families.
Historically, the Skokomish — “SqWuqWu’b3sh”, People of the River — were the largest of nine Twana communities, a Salishan people whose aboriginal territory encompassed the Hood Canal drainage basin. The Twana subsisted on hunting, fishing and gathering activities, practicing a nomadic lifestyle during warmer weather and resettling at permanent sites during the winter. Over 60% of the Skokomish Reservation, including the core area with the Tribal Center, clinic, commercial businesses and housing, is located within the 100-year floodplain of the Skokomish River and Hood Canal.
The new residential area — “t3ba'das” — begins a step-by-step process of moving the community to higher ground and away from persistent seasonal flooding. With flooding forecast to worsen in the decades to come, primarily because of rising sea level, the Tribe faces not only greater constraints to locate new buildings on higher ground, but also emergency response interruptions when roads are underwater. New neighborhoods and venues for community functions located in the hills west of Highway 101 will solve this damaging and costly condition.
There are many tribes facing this challenge around Puget Sound and along the Pacific coast. The Shoalwater Bay Tribe, for example, is exposed to ocean wave action eroding their shoreline and the potential for catastrophic tsunami events. The Tribe has developed an emergency management plan and is working with federal agencies to install armored protection.
The Quileute and Hoh tribes are also working on tsunami and flood protection. Land transfers from the National Park Service will provide upland property to construct new communities, lifting the existing facilities above the current higher risk locations. Both Tribes are working with Congressman Norm Dicks and Senator Patty Murray on this issue.
Assuming that ocean levels will rise in the decades to come and that Pacific Northwest rain and snowfall patterns will also change, tribes settled on land exposed to flooding from rivers and tidal action must develop innovative strategies to reconcile sustainable development with the realities of a changing environment. This is certainly a traditional practice in Indian Country and should come as no surprise. Tribes need to communicate the need, manage the politics, and allocate sufficient resources to address the problem.