Six tribes due at Oak Harbor bones meeting

Once archeological work begins on SE Pioneer Way and Pit Road, affected tribes may have their own experts on hand, and Oak Harbor may be footing the bill.

Allyson Brooks, director of the state Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation, confirmed that a meeting is scheduled to take place in Oak Harbor Tuesday with personnel from the city, the state agency, and representatives of six different tribes.

She declined to provide the tribe’s written comments regarding the city’s permit applications to begin archaeological work downtown and at the dump site north of town, saying they are drafts documents and therefore exempt from the state’s open public records law.

However, Brooks did say that one of the topics to be discussed will be the hiring of tribal archaeologists and tribal monitors. The tribes requested that they be on hand throughout the archaeological dig; the issue that has to be resolved is who will pay for them.

“These things are going to have to be negotiated,” Brooks said

Last month, the remains of four Native Americans were discovered on SE Pioneer Way and in a dirt-dump site on Pit Road. By order of the historic preservation office, work on the city’s $8.35-million,  one-way road project has been on hold since June 24.

According to Brooks, a total of six tribes will be participating in next week’s meeting. They include: the Swinomish, Stillaguamish, Tulalip, Suquamish, Sammamish and Upper Skagit tribes.

Despite a well established history of the Swinomish’s presence in the area, Brooks said the other five tribes have made it clear they consider themselves equal parties.

“We’re hearing everybody say they want to be involved and that no one tribe be treated as the lead at this time,” she said.

It’s not clear exactly how many of the tribes are requesting their own archeologists and tribal monitors be on hand. Brooks also acknowledged that while the historic preservation office can make them a part of the permit conditions, how they are paid for is an issue that is between the city and the tribes.

“We’re hoping next week there will be a consensus,” she said.

Oak Harbor Mayor Jim Slowik said he’s hoping for a similar result. Slowik said he only knows of one tribe that wants their own archeologist; the rest are satisfied with the city’s hired expert. What’s needed is consensus on their part, he said.

As for hiring monitors from each tribe, Slowik said that appears to be a rather common procedure in such situation and he supports paying for their time if necessary.

“I don’t see that as a problem at all,” he said.

Although it’s still too soon to know the financial impacts of the stalled road project, Slowik said a special meeting of the city council could occur as soon as next week and he hopes to have some solid numbers to present.

While the city council will not take part in the closed meeting with the tribes, two council members said they would not be opposed to covering all, or at least, some of the tribe’s costs.

Councilman Jim Campbell said he would hope that some of the costs can be negotiated and that the city would not be on the hook for paying for six different experts. But, if it came down to it, he said he believes it’s the city’s responsibility to cover the tab.

“It’s our project and everything about it belongs to us,” Campbell said.

Similarly, Councilman Rick Almberg said he hopes that the tribes agree to have one collective archaeologist and  he would support paying the fee. He would also support paying for tribal monitors or spiritual leaders for each of the tribes.

“To me that would be reasonable, unless they were asking $1,000 an hour,” Almberg said. “I’d have a problem with that.”

If the issue can be resolved, the historic preservation office still has to make a final determination and approve or deny the two permits. Brooks could not say when that might be, but Slowik said he hopes it will be soon.

Downtown businesses are floating “in limbo” right now and the project needs to get rolling again soon, he said.

“I hope to bring them some good news next week,” Slowik said.


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