Sustainability and Hanford Reach

Tracy Lai, Humanities/Social Sciences, Seattle Central Community College

The struggle over Hanford Reach, the last wild stretch of the Columbia River, is difficult to understand unless we take an interdisciplinary approach. Hanford Reach is a case study of colliding interest groups but the co-management, if there is to be such an approach, requires understanding the history, the science and the cultural conflicts over what is important and how to value what is still there.

An interdisciplinary approach would engage the scientific understanding of the delicate ecosystem in the region, as well as the science of nuclear wastes and the theory of toxic wastes clean-up. An historical approach would engage the multiple histories told, remembered and recorded in the region from petroglyphs and sacred sites to diaries, news clippings, treaties and laws. An ethnic studies, anthropology and/or sociology approach would distinguish the multicultural perspectives that inform peoples' behaviors and approaches.

By employing a variety of disciplines, I hope to construct an approach that mirrors the complexity of the problems before us. As we consider Hanford Reach through various lenses, we should find nuances and intersections that might have remained hidden.

Using the approach of many voices, I would try to complement the reading material with speakers who can speak to parts of the picture. To put together these multiple sources, I would organize students into collaborative groups so that they can share and discuss their findings within their group and also with the class as a whole (note that history courses usually have 30-35 students enrolled).

We might examine public and private narratives about Hanford. For example, there are government (public) reports and findings about Hanford. Journalists and documentarians have also probed the topic. There are also testimonies by individuals who worked at Hanford reservation or whose homelands, such as members of the Wanapum Band, were impacted.

Would we need to interrogate whose ideas of sustainability are more valued? Is sustainability a universal concept? Ultimately, we must face issues of power in terms of who has the power to implement a vision of sustainability.

Andrew H. Fisher's Shadow Tribe, the Making of Columbia River Indian Identity opened my eyes to a much more fluid identity process than I had been aware of. The implications of this fluidity regarding which Indians are included in discussions, policy-making and funded initiatives is troubling. Simply stated, non-enrolled Indians (federally recognized) are once again disappeared. Although I have been thinking of sustainability in a more ecosystemic way, I'm left wondering about sustainability and endangered peoples/cultures.

In foregrounding sustainability in a Pacific Northwest History course, I hope to make history more present so that students may see themselves as intentionally choosing to be part of a larger environmental justice movement. Seven generations forward: how many of us really understand that phrase?

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