Hanford Journey 2019

Welcome to the Hanford Journey 2019!



Yakama Nation Swan Dancers, photo by Kiliii Yüyan.
Yakama Nation Swan Dancers, photo by Kiliii Yüyan.

Mattawa, WA (June 14, 2019)—Over 150 people gathered along the Columbia’s scenic Hanford Reach for The Hanford Journey, a day-long event to celebrate the late Dr. Russell Jim and demand a thorough cleanup of the Nuclear Site. Speakers, including Yakama Nation Chairman JoDe Goudy, called on the United States government to ensure Hanford cleanup protects all people that rely on the Columbia River. Dr. Jim dedicated his life to giving Native American tribes a forceful voice in nuclear waste cleanup decisions at the Hanford Site. People from across the Pacific Northwest, including Yakama Nation elected officials, tribal government staff, and citizens, experienced the stunning beauty of the Columbia’s Hanford Reach while listening to speakers, viewing shuttered nuclear reactors on boat tours, and learning about cultural resources and traditional ecological knowledge during guided hikes along the White Bluffs. The first annual Hanford Journey was co-sponsored by Yakama Nation Environmental Restoration and Waste Management (ERWM) Program and non-profit Columbia Riverkeeper.

If we can but achieve a small percentage of the sacrifice and dedication that he did, we collectively will begin to take significant steps to address Hanford in the manner that we should. The life expertise Dr. Russell Jim gave each and everyone one of us can be used as an example in our daily lives in such a significant and great cause.

We must finish the job to clean up Hanford nuclear waste. The mighty Columbia River is the lifeblood of our region. This river has so much to give. To protect the spawning beds of the magnificent Chinook salmon, to honor our treaty obligations, and to restore this might river, now is the time to clean up Hanford.

The Yakama Nation has a clear vision for Hanford: we envision a future where our people fully enjoy our ancestral homelands to practice our traditional way of life and gather our cultural foods safe from any worries of radioactivity; a place that sustains the cultural practices of Yakama members and improves life for our neighbors and future generations.

Russell asked me to think very differently about the Columbia River and it was to stop thinking about it as something separate from us people, and to think of ourselves as a part of the river, and to think of the river as a part of ourselves because restoring the health to the river and cleaning it up and bringing it back to health was really what brings health to the people—all people associated with the river and this great incredible basin that is supports. That really helped me think in a different way and to understand in a different way the impact of all of our work whether it’s on the cleanup side of Hanford or the restoration at Hanford to stop thinking about it like a regulator and start thinking about the whole ecosystem, the whole humanity that’s associated with the river, and what we’ve done to the river.

The 586-square-mile Hanford Site is a legacy of World War II and the Cold War. For over 40 years, the federal government and its contractors generated unprecedented volumes of hazardous and radioactive waste. Today, the U.S. Department of Energy is responsible for one of the largest nuclear cleanup efforts in the world.

The Hanford Journey coincides with a series of recent announcements from the U.S. Department of Energy (Energy), the federal agency responsible for Hanford cleanup, that undermine long-term cleanup of the Hanford Nuclear Site. Last week Energy issued new rules giving itself the authority to abandon storage tanks with more than 100 million gallons of high-level radioactive waste at sites including Hanford.

About Yakama Nation Environmental Restoration & Waste Management (ERWM) Program

The Yakama Nation also uses its authorities under the Comprehensive Environmental Recovery and Compensation Liability Act (CERCLA) and the Washington State Dangerous Waste regulations (WAC 173-303) to participate in the process of cleanup and restoration of hazardous waste sites on the Hanford Site. The Yakama Nation Environmental Restoration and Waste Management (ERWM) Program is tasked with the oversight this process and issues affecting Hanford Site natural resources. ERWM’s involvement in these sites includes participation in technical, project management, and policy meetings on response and natural resource damage actions.

About Columbia Riverkeeper

Columbia Riverkeeper’s mission is to protect and restore the water quality of the Columbia River and all life connected to it, from the headwaters to the Pacific Ocean. Representing over 16,000 members and supporters, Columbia Riverkeeper works to restore a Columbia River where people can safely eat the fish they catch and where children can swim without fear of toxic exposure. Columbia Riverkeeper is a member of Waterkeeper Alliance, the world’s fastest-growing environmental movement, uniting more than 300 Waterkeeper organizations worldwide. For more information, go to columbiariverkeeper.org.


Speeches from the 2019 Hanford Journey:

Chairman JoDe Goudy, Tribal Chairman of the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation:
Polly Zehm, Deputy Director of the Washington Department of Ecology:

Natalie Swan, Botanist and Biologist at Yakama Nation’s Environmental Restoration Waste Management Program:

About Dr. Russell Jim

Dr. Russell Jim quote

A man with a deep understanding of his tribal culture, the environment, and the history of plutonium production at Hanford, Dr. Russell Jim’s legacy remains impossible to sum up in a paragraph.

Dr. Jim founded and was Program Director of the Yakama Nation Environmental Restoration Waste Management Program. A Yakama Nation cultural leader and 2002 recipient of the Paul Beeson Peace Award, he grew up in the Yakama traditional territory understanding the landscape intricacies and ecological knowledge as Yakama Tribal members have for thousands of years.

Dr. Jim focused his life on preserving the earth’s natural resources, as the Yakama culture and livelihood in- extricably revolves around them. He worked on Hanford issues since 1977, prior to it becoming a Superfund site in 1989. Dr. Jim firmly voiced Yakama Nation’s concerns arising from the Treaty of 1855 between the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation and the United States. The Treaty, which guarantees perpetual rights to fish, hunt, and gather traditional foods and medicine on open and unclaimed land, including land at the Hanford Site.

Yakama land at Hanford was ceded to the United States in the Treaty, with provisions that rights would remain forever. The Treaty involved a grant of land and rights to the U.S. by the Yakama Nation, not the reverse.

Whether Dr. Jim was explaining the importance of adequate Hanford cleanup on the remediation side, or the importance of CERCLA injury assessment on activities on the natural resource damage assessment side, there was always hope to restore the environment to clean, safe, and unrestricted use for generations yet unborn.

Thank you for attending The Hanford Journey. Hanford remains a beautiful, unique landscape, rich with cultural significance. Hanford is not a remote waste dump; use your voice to tell the government: CLEAN UP HANFORD!

Watch this video "Hanford: A Race Against Time":

Art Contest Finalists

"Hanford Journey" artist Carmen Selam with her mother, Carmen designed one of the event t-shirts.
"Hanford Journey" artist Carmen Selam with her mother, Carmen designed one of the event t-shirts. Photo by Kiliii Yüyan.

Columbia Riverkeeper and Yakama Nation’s Environmental Restoration and Waste Management Program (ERWM) sponsored an art contest to inspire and encourage local and tribal artists to capture the meaning of clean water, cleaning up Hanford, and healthy cultural resources. This contest had 22 beautiful, unique entries, several of which came from Wapato High School. JP Strong won the $300 cash prize for his work entitled “Every Drop Counts, for Mind, Body, and Spirit.” By sponsoring an art contest, Riverkeeper and ERWM hope to support artists who use their artwork to advocate for environmental restoration, protection, and cleanup—and who use art as their personal way of engaging in environmental advocacy.     
“Every Drop Counts, for Mind, Body, and Spirit is what I call the drawing because in reality, it does. The feathers are formed as a peace sign, symbolizing our way of life we, as Natives, strive for. The top feather has our tribal name, YAKAMA NATION. The one to the left has what’s always on our minds, our home and family. The second, our longhouse and the food provided by clean waters to keep our bodies healthy. Last, but not least, is the sweathouse we use, built by wood and hides from our habitat, to ensure our spirituality. We also use the hides for drums to practice our tradition of ‘Washat… the 7 drums’ as well as the big drum for pow wows. The lifestyle we have to stay strong is fishing, hunting, and gathering roots and huckleberries. As well as participating in pow wows. There are also feathers around symbolizing the colors often found in our life dealing with mother earth. The sides are looking like loom beadwork that say “NATIVE PRIDE,” an everyday thing for us. This is how I see Clean Water is Healthy Bodies and Cultural Resources.”

Every Drop Counts © 2019 John Paul Strong
First place: "Every Drop Counts" John Paul Strong
Hanford Journey art contest, second place
Second Place: “Salmon People” Carmen Selam
Third Place: “Ethereal” Alexia Rucker
Third Place: “Ethereal” Alexia Rucker

Much more than a nuclear waste site, over 258 species of birds call the Hanford Reach home.

Top 5 Things to Know for the Hanford Journey:
  1. Columbia River tribes offer a vision for Hanford that involves people fishing, hunting, and living along the Hanford Reach.

    Tribes invest significant resources in advocating for Hanford cleanup. In the early 1940s, the United States removed Native Americans from Hanford to construct top-secret nuclear reactors for the Manhattan Project. Except for this 80-year forced absence, native people have used the Hanford area since time immemorial to hunt, fish, gather food, trade, and live. This area has great traditional and religious significance to Columbia Plateau tribes and is home to multiple traditional cultural properties, traditional use areas, as well as significant ceremonial sites. In describing the importance of the Hanford area to the Yakama people, Dr. Russell Jim explained: “What does the land mean to us? All this is tied together, to our sovereignty, our government, our culture, our religion, all tied to the foods and medicines, our language, our way of life.”

    In 1855, the Yakama Nation, Warm Springs, Umatilla, and the Nez Perce tribes, signed treaties ceding millions of acres of their lands to the United States, but reserved important rights. According to a landmark case upholding the tribes’ treaty rights, “[The treaties] reserved rights . . . to every individual Indian, as though named therein.” The Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission (CRITFC) explains, “Many of these that were guaranteed to continue after their treaty was signed.” CRITFC emphasizes that these are “not rights that the treaty granted, but rights the tribes had prior to the treaty that . . . they continue to have.” One was the right to harvest fish in all the tribes’ “usual and accustomed areas,” which includes the Columbia River.
  2. Take a boat tour today and view Hanford’s nuclear reactors from the water.

    Take in the sweeping vistas of the Hanford Reach on a 45-minute boat tour. Looming large and out of place in the beautiful shrub steppe landscape, reactors begin to appear. This portion of the Hanford Nuclear Site, the 100-Area, once contained nine plutonium production reactors, built between 1943 and 1965. Hundreds of thousands of tons of uranium fuel rods were subjected to nuclear chain reactions inside the reactors to produce tons of plutonium. During World War II and the Cold War, the United States used plutonium produced at Hanford in nuclear weapons. Years of plutonium production generated billions of gallons of liquid waste and millions of tons of solid waste and contaminated soil.

    On the boat tour, you can view the B Reactor—the first full-scale plutonium production reactor ever built in the world. The B Reactor’s nuclear legacy reaches across the globe: the B Reactor produced the plutonium for the Trinity Test in New Mexico and the nuclear bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, on August 9, 1945.  The U.S. government stopped plutonium production at the B Reactor in 1968.
  3. The Columbia’s Hanford Reach contains important salmon spawning habitat.

    The Hanford Reach is the last remaining stretch of the mainstem Columbia River where fall Chinook salmon spawn in significant numbers. The Columbia’s Hanford Reach spans 50 miles of undammed, free-flowing river and contains islands, riffles, gravel bars, oxbow ponds, and backwater sloughs. The Reach is home to 43 species of fish, including the threatened Upper Columbia River spring-run Chinook salmon, steelhead, and bull trout. The Reach provides critical habitat for spawning, foraging, and migration of salmon and steelhead.       
  4. Toxic and radioactive pollution from the Hanford Site threatens salmon.

    Toxic and radioactive groundwater plumes from Hanford threaten salmon habitat. Major contaminants present in the Hanford Reach include chromium, nitrate, tritium, strontium-90, trichloroethene, and uranium. Contaminated groundwater enters the Columbia River during the river’s low-flow periods in fall and winter. And salmon spawn in the Hanford Reach from mid-October to late-November, peaking in mid-November. Egg and fry development occurs from mid-October through May. Salmon, therefore, are most likely to come into contact with the toxic pollution during their most sensitive life stages—spawning and development. Aquatic invertebrates (insects and other animals) are also exposed to pollution in the Hanford Reach, potentially causing contamination to enter the food web. A thorough cleanup and long-term protection will ensure salmon continue to return to critical spawning grounds on the Columbia River.
  5. Gain a deeper understanding of the Hanford Reach National Monument on a guided hike with staff from Yakama Nation’s Environmental Restoration and Waste Management Program.

    Across the Columbia from the Hanford Nuclear Site lies the Hanford Reach National Monument. Designated by President Bill Clinton in 2000, the Monument covers 304 acres of varied shrub-steppe, cliff, wetland, and river habitat. The iconic White Bluffs run nearly half the length of the Hanford Reach. River and lake sediments left behind by the ancestral Columbia River and its tributaries formed the bluffs. At points, the cliffs tower almost perpendicular above the Columbia, reaching heights up to 300 feet. The cliffs contain large fossil deposits, including the remains of rhinoceros, camels, and mastodons. Want to learn more about the Monument? Join the hike or visit https://www.fws.gov/refuge/Hanford_Reach/.
Critters of the Reach

Can you spot a mule deer or coyote? The Hanford Reach National Monument is renowned for its biodiversity:
43 species of fish, including threatened and endangered salmon and trout; 42 mammal species; 258 bird species; 4 amphibian species; 11 reptile species; and over 1,500 invertebrate species.