Lyle Point - Sacred Land Protected
“I promised my aunt I would save this place”, says Johnny Jackson of the scenic promontory overlooking the Columbia River. “Knowing what was there, I had to fight for it.” Lyle Point, a fishing site and village for the Cascade and Klickitat tribes for thousands of years, also held the silent remains of a long ago tragedy. “Traders (in the 1800s) brought blankets that were contaminated with the smallpox virus,” says Johnny, chief of the Cascade band of the Yakama Nation. “It wiped out the whole settlement.” Surviving tribal members from up river buried the dead where they lay. Yet, as the years went by, the story—and the land—were lost. “My aunt told me that about the dead and how they must be allowed to rest in peace with nothing on top of them, so they can look up into the heavens,” says Johnny. “She said, ‘Back then, the natives weren’t educated and couldn’t protect the land, but today we are, and we can.’”
The decades-long effort by the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation to regain this sacred land and restore access to traditional fishing grounds has been a challenge by limited tribal financial and legal resources. But the battles have been fierce.
In 1992, Klickitat County approved a proposal to develop 33 one-acre vacation homes on the site. Tribal members and environmental groups protested, organizing large marches and picketing realtors’ offices. Following litigation by the Yakama Nation and the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers bought two of the lots for a tribal fishing site. TPL then stepped in and, after several years of negotiations, purchased the remaining 31 lots in 2002.
Thanks to generous donor support, TPL has been able to hold the land since then, while helping to secure permanent funding. The Yakama Nation purchased the land from TPL this spring. Tribal members held a celebration to honor the return of the traditional homeland and share its story on May 15th. Among those in attendance were The People for Lyle Point, a non-profit, non-native group created to buy back the land from TPL for community use. The group dissolved shortly after the ceremony, feeling no need to continue their efforts.
“A lot of people questioned why we wanted this land,” says Johnny. “After they heard the elders speak, they understood. But The Trust for Public Land was always there.” “They never gave up, never let us down. If my aunt was alive, she would be very happy.”