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Coastal tribes may soon have more money to move to higher ground in Washington state

The federal government is just a step away from approving relocation money for three Native American coastal tribes in Washington state.

The Hoh Tribe, Quileute Tribe and Quinault Indian Nation are at risk of tsunamis and disastrous flooding. It's a problem that's worsening as climate change advances.

On Wednesday, the U.S. House approved about $3.6 million in new funding to help them relocate to higher ground.

Hoh Tribal Chairwoman Lisa Martinez says this allotment would mean a lot.

"I hate to see the lower village how it is," Martinez says. "Because I used to live down there and my grandmother used to live down there, and there's two homes that nobody lives in. But every year it's just getting eaten away by the high tide, the river and the ocean at the same time."

Martinez says with the funding that's proposed tribal members would be able to install water and sewer infrastructure on the higher ground, to connect to new homes they want to build. She says there has been modest funding so far for homes, but not enough to connect them to infrastructure.

Democratic Congressmember Derek Kilmer has worked to get this in front of Congress. He says the federal government has an obligation to fulfill treaty responsibilities and make sure people aren't put at risk.

“We are appreciative of Representative Kilmer’s continued support of our urgent need to 'Move to Higher Ground' and making the safety of the Quileute people and our neighbors in his district a priority," Quileute Tribal Council Chairman Douglas Woodruff Jr. said in a statement.

The President of the Quinault Indian Nation, Guy Capoeman, says “since time immemorial the Quinault people have lived and thrived in the Taholah Village which is along the Quinault River and the Pacific Ocean.”

However, he adds, "because of the threat of increased storm surge, continued riverine flooding due to climate change and threat from a tsunami, the Quinault Indian Nation has made the difficult decision to relocate" to higher ground.

Chairwoman Martinez also cites climate change as an imminent concern, and says she's eager to see the Hoh Tribe's vision for relocation get new federal support. This vision has been underway for decades, at least dating back to the 1990s when the late Chairman Herbert C. Fisher, Jr. advocated for enrolled members to be moved to higher ground.

The flooding around the Hoh village is worsening, coming from the Pacific Ocean on one side and the Hoh River on the other.

Martinez recalls that this last year, "the river changed and went right through the baseball field, which the kids don't access anymore because it's flooded so much that there's raw sewage that has gone through it."

She says it also flooded around their old Tribal center, which they also no longer use, in favor of temporary modular buildings that are out of the flood zone. The Hoh are one of Washington's smallest tribes, with 287 enrolled members — many of whom plan to move up the road.

The proposed relocation funding still needs to pass the Senate and be signed into law by President Biden.

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