Courtesy Pyramid Communications
Otto Braided Hair of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe speaks at a gathering of leaders and members of nine Pacific Northwest tribes, on both sides of the U.S.–Canada border, asking the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to reject a coal-rail terminal at Cherry Point. They were also protesting rail transport of other fossil fuels, such as oil, especially from the carbon-footprint-enhancing Alberta oil sands in Canada.

Tribal Leaders in Pacific Northwest Take a Stand Against Coal Terminals

Terri Hansen

An alliance of tribal leaders and members from the Lower Elwha, Quinault, Tulalip, Spokane, Swinomish, Yakama, Northern Cheyenne and Tsleil-Waututh First Nation joined the Lummi Nation in Seattle last week to call on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to deny permits for the proposed Gateway Pacific Coal Terminal.

And in doing so, each leader highlighted how coal and oil developments, transportation and accidents such as spills and explosions, threaten their nation’s land, resources and people.

RELATED: Seattle Oil-Train Derailment Hits Close to Home for Quinault

The Lummi formed the alliance by reaching out to each tribe to see if they would be willing to stand together, “understanding that each of the participating tribes had at some point in the past or present dealt with their own development issues,” Jaline Quinto of Pyramid Communications said in an email.

The coal export terminal proposed in northern Washington State near the Canadian border would export coal internationally. But the Lummi has a sacred connection to the proposed site, called Cherry Point.

They have fished off Cherry Point for thousands of years. It is part of their treaty protected fishing area, and the Lummi contend that the proposed terminal would result in irreparable harm to their crab and salmon fisheries.  It’s also the site of their ancestral village.

The Lummi have fought the proposal for three years and have repeatedly called on the Corps to deny all permits associated with the proposed terminal in the tribe’s treaty-protected waters. The Corps gave SSA Marine a May 10 deadline to explain how the company would address tribes' concerns and mitigate treaty impacts. SSA missed that deadline.

“The Corps has a responsibility to deny the permit request and uphold our treaty,” said Tim Ballew II, Chair of the Lummi Indian Business Council, in a statement.

RELATED: Lummi Nation Asks Army Corps to Deny Permit for Coal Export Terminal

The Corps denied permits for another proposed coal terminal to be built on the Columbia River, which the Yakama Nation had challenged on the basis that it would harm their treaty fishing areas.

RELATED: Yakama Fight to Protect Fishing Sites From Coal Train Terminals

“In the Yakama language we have no word for ‘mitigation,’ no word to describe repairing lands and waters that have been degraded or destroyed,” said Yakama Nation Tribal Council Chair JoDe Goudy in a statement. “There is no price you can pay, no repair you can make, that would make our lands whole again once the coal companies have done their damage, collected their money and disappeared. We call on the U.S. Army Corps to honor the treaties.”

The participation of Chief Rueben George of the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation of British Columbia highlighted his nation’s protests of Kinder Morgan’s plans to transport oil from the Alberta tar sands via their TransMountain pipeline to the west coast.

RELATED: Coast Salish Nations Unite to Protect Salish Sea

“We take our trust responsibility seriously and will ensure we make a determination with the most accurate, complete information,” Corps spokeswoman Patricia Graesser told Oregon Public Broadcasting’s EarthFix. “There is no deadline; however we are intent on a timely and deliberate process.”

Meetings followed between tribal and community leaders, as well as environmental nongovernmental organizations, to strategize in part on providing new opportunities for social and environmental justice, faith and local elected leaders to more deeply understand the Lummi Nation’s connection to Cherry Point, the Columbia River tribal nations’ connection to the Columbia River and the Quinault Nation’s connection to the Pacific Ocean, and become more invested in preventing the fossil fuel projects that threaten them.

You need to be logged in in order to post comments
Please use the log in option at the bottom of this page