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The Gristle

Letters from Lummi II

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

LETTERS FROM LUMMI II: As coal pier responses take similar shape at the northern and southern ends of Washington, Lummi Nation headed east.

In August, Lummi Nation sent a letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, stating the tribe’s “unconditional and unequivocal opposition to the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal and the interrelated Custer Spur Rail Expansion projects at Cherry Point.”

“Any impact on the Lummi treaty fishing right is inherently an impact on the Lummi way of life,” wrote Lummi Indian Business Council Chair Tim Ballew. “It would significantly degrade an already fragile and vulnerable crab, herring and salmon fishery, dealing a devastating blow to the economy of the fisher community.

“We believe that the Corps should see that these projects would without question result in significant and unavoidable impacts and damage to our treaty rights,” Ballew summarized.

Lummi Nation sent the letter after they learned the Army Corps did not believe the tribe had sent them a “formal response” with a clear statement of opposition to the coal terminal, despite the public statements of tribal leaders, beginning in September of last year as elders burned an oversized symbolic check in the amount of $1 million, stamped “non-negotiable,” on the shingle beach at Cherry Point as a statement of the tribe’s fierce opposition of GPT.

In the past, Corps officials have said they make a practice of suspending action on pending permits when tribes with treaty fishing rights raise such objections. But Corps forbearance may be changing.

In Longview last week, more than 2,000 people arrived at the first public hearing on the environmental review of Millennium Bulk Terminals’ proposal for a $643 million coal export dock. Officials expect a robust review similar to the review required for GPT.

The Army Corps preemptively declared they would break from the lead agencies for the Longview review, preparing their own environmental impact statement under the federal rules that govern shorelines and marine habitat. The state Dept. of Ecology and Cowlitz County planners would prepare their own documents under state environmental policy rules.

The Army Corps this week confirmed they would do the same for Cherry Point, withdrawing from a joint review with Ecology and Whatcom County they initially agreed to, based on an internal decision the Corps reached in August. The three agencies had originally agreed in 2011 to produce one joint environmental impact statement. The lead agencies formally revised their working agreement by a Memorandum of Agreement (MOU) issued on Monday.

The decision by the Army Corps perhaps distances federal policy on fossil fuel exports from state efforts to try to describe and limit the effects of fossil fuels on the environment. The original joint EIS for Cherry Point called for a study of “end use” impacts of off-shore coal burning in Asia, which Ecology insisted upon under its administering of the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA). The decision may also sever the need for state and local interaction with the tribes.

Cowlitz Indian tribal officials borrowed songs from the Lummi, earlier this month issuing a statement of total opposition to the Longview pier very similar to the protest issued by Lummi leaders. The Cowlitz tribe noted increased coal shipments on trains and ships could threaten air and water quality along the Columbia River and harm fish.

Lummi Nation, meanwhile, journeyed east.

The Lummi Nation House of Tears Carvers carried a 22-foot totem pole, carved from a 300-year-old Western red cedar, to Northern Cheyenne on Sept. 18, a community close to the source of the Powder River Basin coal slated for export out of the Pacific Northwest. From there, Jewell Praying Wolf James and his four carvers have visited cities and First Nations communities west along the rail route, blessing each community and delivering the message, “Kwel hoy:” “We draw the line.” From Seattle, the carvers will arrive midweek at Cherry Point, where they will hold a sacred ceremony at their traditional grounds at Xwe’chi’eXen.

“The ‘House of Tears’ carvers of the Lummi community have created a tradition of carving and delivering totem poles to areas struck by disaster or otherwise in need of hope and healing,” James said. “Now it is Lummi Nation’s own sacred landscape, Xwe’chi’eXen, that needs hope, healing and protection.”

On their 1,200 mile journey, the Indians met some cowboys, ranchers that have joined with the Northern Cheyenne community to protest coal-mining operations in the area, which they say are destroying water tables and land that once served prime agriculture. They also met other Indians, notably the Yakama Nation in the great Coulee basin, where coal trains cross whether bound for Washington or Oregon, Longview or Bellingham.

In a two-hour ceremony of drumming and singing, the Yakama people added their prayers and blessings, along with their opposition to coal.

Earlier this year, the Affiliated Tribes of the Northwest Indians, which represents 57 tribes including Salish, adopted a resolution opposing proposals to increase transportation and export of fossil fuels through the Northwest.

“Even though we may practice a different religion, we understand and support the purpose and mission of their totem,” Yakama Nation Tribal Council Chairman Harry Smiskin said of Lummi. “It’s really about protecting Mother Earth.”

The final home for the totem pole will be with the Tsleil-Waututh Nation in Canada, whose lands are located in tar sands territory.

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