The Congressional Threat to Treaty Rights

Tim Ballew II

The Lummi Nation has faced an uphill battle in our efforts to protect our fishing area at Xwe'chi'cXen, Cherry Point, from a coal terminal. We’ve faced many obstacles and opponents in an ongoing fight to protect this sacred site from harmful development. Now, we’re working to stop Congress from taking actions that could have devastating impacts on not just Lummi, but tribes across the nation.

SSA Marine wants to build North America’s largest coal terminal within Lummi fishing waters. If the terminal is built, huge ships—vessels too large to pass through the Panama Canal—would cross the Salish Sea through the treaty-protected fishing grounds of Lummi and several other treaty fishing tribes.

In late August, the Lummi Nation submitted our final response to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (the Corps). Years of extensive research have shown that there is no way to mitigate the impact of a coal terminal in Lummi fishing waters. SSA Marine’s own studies even admit that the terminal would result in 3.7 billion gallons of polluted water discharged from ships in the area. Pollution and a big increase in vessel traffic would be devastating to our ability to fish and would violate our treaty.

When the Corps evaluates permit requests for projects like the Gateway Pacific terminal, it has to conduct an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to ensure there’s no significant damage to the environment. They’re also required to conduct an independent analysis to protect tribal treaty rights. The Corps can then deny a permit based on whether a project violates treaty rights. Now some members of Congress want to change the game.

Under pressure from SSA Marine, Senator Steve Daines (R-Montana) and Representative Ryan Zinke (R-Montana) want to prohibit the Corps from making a determination about the permit for the Gateway Pacific Terminal based on a review of the project’s impact on Lummi’s treaty rights.

If the terminal is built, Montana coal can be shipped to China. So Senator Daines and Representative Zinke, along with 31 of their colleagues in the House and Senate, are urging the Corps to degrade treaty protections. In a letter sent to the head of the Corps, they complained about the treaty rights review of the Gateway Pacific project and suggested that treaty rights didn’t deserve review or respect from the agency.

Senator Daines is a member of the Senate Indian Affairs committee, yet he has coordinated this effort to erode treaty rights to the benefit of a corporation that has shown it’s willing to ignore the rules. SSA Marine conducted invasive testing at Cherry Point and carried out the unauthorized excavation of burial sites in Lummi’s sacred area. The rights of all tribes are under fire from some members of Congress who are putting the interests of a corporation with questionable business practices before their duty to honor our treaties.

Tribes across the United States should be on high alert as Congress tries to chip away at our treaty protections. If Congress prevents the Corps from independently reviewing and honoring Lummi’s treaty rights, it could create a precedent that would force other tribes to go through an unnecessary environmental review process.

Certain members of Congress want to change federal law to undermine treaty rights. Lummi Nation will be reaching out to tribes across the nation for support. We must send legislators in our states, and the chairmen of the Indian Affairs Committees, a clear message that we’re watching and will defend the treaties our past leaders fought and died for.

Tim Ballew II is the chairman of the Lummi Indian Business Council. 

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WinterWindTeacher's picture
I appreciate the article you have written and I could hope to be sensitive and respectful to your feelings. These have been very difficult and harrowing times that seem impossible. Respectfully, what you are enduring is the consistent truth of behavior that was introduced and has occupied America ever since. It has and continues to play a tragic story for life tiresomely. I would hope to be supportive of your rights as a sovereign nation and any way that I might than may I. I do not expect the government of the U.S. to honor any part of law and I have no confidence in the United Nations either. I do have faith in a true people who value life, the earth, truth, love and human being. I also honestly trust that the United States is not good for America and misrepresents who America truly is. I trust that America is beautiful, kind, generous, loving and does not like what they do. My own personal conviction is that the United States needs to be removed from the America's. The U.S. has continuously antagonized other nations and supplied and supported conflict where ever conflict best suits it's interest - or meddling in the affairs of others in order to create fear or conflict, whichever, they are undoubtedly the consistent beneficiary of debauchery, deceit, contempt, treason, betrayal, lies, thieving and murder. I have a certainty that love and truth are a great shield and a power that can not be shot down. If there were a day that could bring the end of the entanglement with this criminal profession and its thousandths of days and nights of illegal occupation and mass extermination; I know of no greater power that could protect the people nor one greater that could remove the offender than love and its companion truth. I do not want a reconciliation with such dishonesty or a negotiation, I honestly want for a complete and full removal from the America's of all and any such parts of the United States. The U.S. has consistently been a dishonest broker at any table of discussion, cheating, lying, stealing and even murder if it furthers their winning hand. I also trust the totem pole of the Inuit and Aleut people; human beings are on the bottom and the animals are above the people - to be our teachers and for the people to complete ourselves and become fully human being. I trust this is our purpose for being born; we have an important task to fulfill for earth, the plants, trees, mountains, water, sky, animals and for the creator who gave us the opportunity to enter into the world to be born. It is essential, necessary, of the highest good, a great and glorious honor to humanity; the many who walked so far to be buried under stone, those that endured the storms, those who were afflicted with sufferings, the many who were persecuted and executed, those whose gaunt eyes stood in their bones of starvation, those tasked to humiliation for impotent filth, for all human kind into eternity - it is a victory grand and magnificent for the eternal life with our mother the earth. We will understand our relationship to life and live together as a true people as it was being dreamed and realized so long ago before the bitter deadly occupation and horrors became permanent. It is something that I realize that they do not grasp at all. Life is not to be ruled, regulated and lorded over. It may be how their kings ruled and with heinous crimes to enforce it. Indigenous peoples understand that life is a complex series of interdependent relationships that keeps harmony and balance which sustains life, health and well being for all. Whatever criticisms exist over disputes between various Indigenous nations, or even in autonomous governance, one thing is for certain, the whole was always contemplated and a destination to fulfill was understood, that this very day exists is an absolute affirmation of divine intelligence within the various Indigenous nations - because they planned for us to have it, they preserved it and they prayed for us to live it. This is ingenious, a magnificence of intelligence and a passionate love for life. That divine intelligence is not frozen in time but has passed down through the generations and is living among us today. I accept that we do have the capacity to solve these problems: to remove the offense that is destroying life, the life of the earth and that of the people. The intelligence needs to be supported to feel safe to express itself and for people to be willing to hear it; which is aside from the soothsayers, doubters, and side switchers. Truth does not live without purpose and we are not born to betray it. Our birth is not for a slaughterhouse, we are here with the earth to fulfill divine will, intelligence, creation and love - to complete human being and we will, somehow! Neither you nor I or anyone are here to be a spectator to murdering this life, it is detestable alien and monstrous ignorance that is rank with defilement. Our woes will cease to exist when we gather the loving intelligence we are blessed with and remove the foul fiend and tether it to its alien place safely from life. We were given this heaven, our Mother Earth to love and protect, we gave our word... we also accepted, naturally, that we would love our brothers and sisters, we were happy to be born. Our birth was without pain or fear, we walked out into the beautiful light that Mother Earth shines all the way up to our Fathers house in the sky. It is written that - "it shall be done on Earth as it is in Heaven." Something is missing? .