The Gristle

Letters from Lummi
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LETTERS FROM LUMMI:: Lummi Nation continues to grow in the sophistication of their pursuit of treaty claims, moving from blanket objection to a more targeted and leveraged resistance to concepts the tribe believes endanger their rights under treaty.

Lummi Nation in August withdrew without comment its administrative appeal of the City of Bellingham’s proposed regional stormwater project at West Bakerview Road and Arctic Avenue, releasing tribal resistance to an enlarged and relocated Costco and associated shopping center at that location. In return, Lummi Nation may receive consideration for municipal water and stormwater supply for the tribe’s trust lands on 80 acres of property at Slater Road and Interstate 5 in Ferndale, a highly strategic property at the entrance to a corridor that could supply construction materials to the Gateway Pacific Terminal at Cherry Point.

Mayor Kelli Linville expressed hope the tribe might similarly relax their claims against a cleanup action plan for the Cornwall Avenue landfill site proposed by the City of Bellingham and state Dept. of Ecology, the first of a number of proposed cleanup and habitat restoration projects along more than 11 miles of Bellingham Bay shoreline. Thawing relations among allies might also permit the completion of the city’s Overwater Walkway that would join the Cornwall site to Boulevard Park in an unbroken pedestrian boardwalk.

In August, Lummi Nation embarked on a second totem pole journey from South Dakota to the Salish Sea and north to Alberta, Canada, connecting with many tribal and non-tribal communities in the path of coal and tar sands oil exports. The journey concluded last week with a ceremonial raising of the pole at the Beaver Lake Cree Nation in Canada.

In an eloquent statement at the outset of the journey, Lummi Chairman Timothy Ballew II scoped the great task of his people:
“For generations, tribal peoples have witnessed the impact of faceless ‘persons’—corporations—on the lands, water, air, and human and environmental health,” Ballew said. “Though at times consulted, we have not been heard as a real voice in defending our traditional homeland territories. Instead, we have seen the degradation of our land and water, our traditional foods and medicines, and the health of our people.

“We wonder how Salish Sea fisheries, already impacted by decades of pollution and global warming, will respond to the toxic runoff from the water needed for coal piles stored on site. How will Bellingham’s recreational and commercial boaters navigate when more than 400 cape-sized ships, each 1,000 feet long, depart Cherry Point each year bearing individual loads of 287,000 tons of coal? What will happen to the region’s air quality as coal trains bring dust and diesel pollution? And of course, any coal burned overseas will come home to our state as mercury pollution in our fish,” Ballew noted.

On the issue of water quality and availability, Lummi Nation has shown great energy and leadership, joining other Coast Salish tribes in formal protest of the state’s plan for updating the clean-water rules that are partly tied to how much fish people eat.

The Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, which represents 20 Western Washington tribes, sent the governor a letter last week expressing “dissatisfaction” with the proposal and expressing concern about additional delays in addressing water quality concerns. Under the federal Clean Water Act, the state must adopt standards that ensure rivers and major bodies of water are clean enough to support fish that are safe for humans to eat.

“The tribes’ principal objective for revised water-quality standards is to protect the health of future generations, and we have determined that your proposal does not meet this goal,” the tribes wrote Gov. Jay Inslee. Tribal leaders met with the regional director of the Environmental Protection Agency this week, requesting federal intervention to address their concerns.

Tribal leaders have also expressed caution about discussions underway between Whatcom County and an Ag District Coalition that seeks to form four new Watershed Improvement Districts (WIDs)—legal entities in the form of special purpose taxing districts intended to better leverage agricultural claims to water in the Drayton, Laurel, Sumas, and South Lynden drainage basins. The effort to create WIDs comes in response to a Lummi and Nooksack Indian Tribe petition of the federal court, asking the government to rule on how much water should be set aside for stream flows required for salmon and the tribes’ senior water right. While tribal leaders hold cautious optimism about renewed local efforts to quantify the availability of water, they’re concerned about the creation of new legal entitlements in an already complex arena of claims.

The proposed WIDs are frightfully non-democratic in their construction, created by a simple majority of landowners in each basin, further reduced by a requirement that the landowners must control 4.5 acres of agricultural property or greater—an organization of farmers by farmers for farmers that essentially pushes uses of water other than agriculture out of the discussion. A number of these farmers do not themselves hold a water right, so the ad hoc creation of new entities that can assert new legal rights at the state level is potentially a problem.

Not content to leave their fate entirely to boards and courts, Lummi Nation joined other Coast Salish Nations last week to launch the Nawt-sa-maat Alliance—“One house. One heart. One prayer”—in a call for unified action to protect the Salish Sea and its communities from the threat of projects that endager their way of life. The formidable alliance will join an international rally on climate concerns at the Peace Arch on the Canadian border on Sept. 20.

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