Hanford Nuclear Site


As late as the 1940’s, land comprising the Columbia River Region and what is now known as the Hanford Nuclear Reservation was occupied and used by Indian tribes.

Tribal oral histories tell that we have utilized the natural resources of the Hanford region since time Immemorial. Archeological records indicate use and occupancy of more than 11,000 years.

During the 1940’s, Hanford was constructed for making nuclear fuel and weapons. The production of nuclear weapons during the Cold War caused massive contamination of much of the natural resources of the Columbia River Region. Hanford continued making weapons until the late 1980’s when the Department of Energy (DOE) turned to the long term cleanup efforts to restore land, wildlife, and water to previous conditions.

Past cleanup efforts have inadvertently disturbed burial sites, destroyed natural vegetation, and important native cultural resources. In an effort to correct past cleanup efforts, DOE now works with affected tribes to ensure tribal interest are protected.

The Nez Perce Tribe, recognized in the Treaty of 1855 with the United States, retains its rights to take fish and hunt at “usual and accustomed” places in areas ceded to the U.S. Government. The treaty encompasses areas of land and water in Washington, Idaho, and Oregon, including the Columbia, Snake, and Salmon River Regions. All these regions are impacted by DOE activities. This solemn exchange of lands for promises is the momentum for the Nez Perce involvement at Hanford.


Basis for Nez Perce Tribal involvement at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation