A Yakama Nation elder who fought for cleanup of the Hanford nuclear reservation land used by his tribe for centuries has died.
Russell Jim died Saturday morning at age 82, according to David Humphreys of Valley Hills Funeral Home in Zillah.
“The passing of our elder Russell Jim is indeed a great loss for the Yakama Nation,” tribal chairman JoDe Goudy said in a statement to the Yakima Herald-Republic. “Mr. Jim was a man of few words, yet when he spoke, he always had a lesson to share as a great leader of our way of life.
“He was passionate about our environment, the strongest advocate for righting the wrongs of the dark history of Hanford, and a faithful carrier of our Yakama culture and traditions,” Goudy said. “His passing marks the end of an era which may never be equaled.”
Jim was instrumental in giving Native American tribes a voice at the congressional table on nuclear waste cleanup.
The Yakama Nation has treaty rights at Hanford.
The winters were milder here, and so therefore we moved here and dispersed to all other parts of the country when the spring came.
Russell Jim, Yakama Nation elder
Historically, the Yakamas came each year to Hanford, the “Palm Springs” of the area, as the weather cooled.
“The winters were milder here, and so therefore we moved here and dispersed to all other parts of the country when the spring came,” Jim said in an oral history posted by The Atomic Heritage Foundation.
After devising his tribe’s Environmental Restoration and Waste Management program, he spent 37 years managing it. Among his successes was fighting to prevent Hanford from becoming the nation’s repository for high level radioactive waste.
He retired last year after nearly 60 years spent in tribal leadership roles.
More that 200 family, friends and tribal officials and employees gathered in the events center of Legends Casino & Hotel to honor his decades in tribal leadership roles and to thank him for protecting the Columbia River that runs through Hanford and continues to provide his tribe with salmon and other natural foods and medicines.
He was awarded an honorary doctorate degree last summer by Heritage University for his work to remedy Hanford's legacy of nuclear contamination.
"It's with great sadness that I announce the passing of Dr. Russell Jim," Andrew Sund, president of Heritage, tweeted Saturday evening. "A great leader of the Yakama nation and a true friend of Heritage.
"Our thoughts are with his family at this difficult time."
Humphreys said a horse-drawn funeral procession with scores of people is expected to go from the Toppenish Creek Longhouse to Toppenish Creek Cemetery at sunrise on Monday — 6:26 a.m.