Slockish v. U.S. Federal Highway Administration

Becket Role:
Case Start Date:
October 6, 2008
Current Court:
U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon
Original Court:
U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon
Practice Area(s):


Ongoing litigation in the federal district court.

Case Summary

The Klickitat and Cascade Tribes: The People of Mount Hood   

The Klickitat and Cascade Tribes of Yakama Nation have lived in the areas surrounding Mount Hood for centuries. It has been the center of tribal quests, spiritual rituals, and sacred burial ceremonies long before this nation was founded.

As the hereditary Chiefs of the Klickitat and Cascade Native American tribes, Wilbur Slockish and Johnny Jackson serve as spiritual leaders for their people. For more than 30 years they have taught the tribes’ traditional ways and organized religious ceremonies such as vision quests and water ceremonies along the mountain trails.

As Chiefs, one of the most crucial roles is to protect the welfare of the people and their lands. The protection of sacred sites allows tribal members to safely return to these areas to fish, hunt, gather food and medicine and bury their dead to safeguard the individual’s spiritual journey home. However, in 2008 the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) bulldozed the tribes’ sacred burial sites, pitting Mr. Slockish and Mr. Jackson and Carol Logan, a Traditional Practitioner from the Clackamas/Chinook/Kalapooya Tribes, in a lawsuit against government officials.

Destroying Sacred Native American Sites

In 2006 the Oregon Department of Transportation announced a project to expand U.S. Highway 26, which runs along the west coast of Oregon. The three tribal members alerted officials to the importance of the burial grounds as tribal members had done prior to previous government expansion plans. Yet this time the government refused to listen.

In direct violation of the 1987 Highway 26 Widening Agreement, state officials bulldozed the ancestral burial grounds in 2008. Although the government left the other side of the highway untouched, the highway expansion buried the Natives’ ancestral grave sites, destroyed sacred stone markers, and removed safe access to the sites

Defending the Religious Rights of Native Americans

Chiefs Slockish and Jackson, and Carol Logan, together with the Cascade Geographic Society and the Mount Hood Sacred Lands Preservation Alliance, sued the government citing federal laws including the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and the Free Exercise Clause of the U.S. Constitution. After two-and-a-half years of negotiations between the tribal members and the government, negotiations failed.

In October 2017, a crucial hearing was held in which the tribe members asked the court to find that the destruction of their sacred site substantially burdened their religious practices. Sadly, the tribes were denied justice when the judge ruled that the government was free to bulldoze sacred Native American burial grounds and destroy sacred artifacts. The tribes appealed this decision on March 16th, 2018. They are represented by Becket together with Oregon City attorney James Nicita and Michael Patterson of the Seattle-based law firm, Patterson Buchanan Forbes & Leitch.