Oak Harbor's Not So Inadvertent Discovery

Ignoring SHPO's warning of Indian remains does not an inadvertent discovery make. Oak Harbor claims that its disturbance of Coast Salish ancestral remains was "not intentional." In other words, the city claims they inadvertently unearthed the Ancestors.

RCW 27.44.050 subjects Oak Harbor and its contractors to civil liability. That is because the city knew or should have known tribal ancestral remains would be uncovered through excavation, especially due to SHPO's warning. Having ignored that warning, Oak Harbor's acts were neither accidental nor inadvertent per RCW 27.44.050.

Oak Harbor and its contractors can now be subject to class action litigation for a potentially staggering amount of imputed and punitive damages under RCW 27.44.050, given Judge Robert Lasnik's decision in Lummi Nation v. Golder. The imputed/actual damages calculus alone could go like this:

Number of defendants X Number of remains X $500 or actual damages, whichever is greater X Thousands of Coast Salish Indians with ancestral ties to the Oak Harbor Ancestors

Hopefully the threat of a class action lawsuit for millions of dollars (nothwithstanding the Supremes' Wal-Mart decision) will cause Oak Harbor to remedy the situation. That said, the harm already inflicted upon Coast Salish People is irreparable.

Gabriel "Gabe" Galanda is a partner at Galanda Broadman PLLC, of Seattle, an American Indian majority-owned law firm.  He is an enrolled member of the Round Valley Indian Tribes of Covelo, California.  He can be reached at 206.691.3631 or gabe@galandabroadman.com, or via galandabroadman.com.