Native Tribes Rally Against Coal

Big Coal Wants to Build on 3,500 Year Old Sacred Burial Site

At the 7th Annual White House Tribal Nations Conference this week, Northwest and Washington State native american tribes stood in solidarity to protect treaty rights. Tribal leaders gathered from many nations—representing thousands of tribal members from the shores of Lummi, Tulalip, Swinomish, and Quinault, to the rivers and mountains of Yakama, Hoopa Valley, and Spokane— to oppose the nation’s largest coal terminal being built on Lummi’s sacred burial grounds, Xwe'chieXen, known as Cherry Point, in the Salish Sea.

“We’re taking a united stand against corporate interests that interfere with our treaty-protected rights,” said Tim Ballew II, chairman of the Lummi Indian Business Council. “Tribes across the nation and world are facing challenges from corporations that are set on development at any cost to our communities.”

For three years, Northwest treaty tribes, including Lummi Nation, Swinomish Indian Tribal Community, Tulalip Tribes, and Yakama Nation, and the Columbia River Intertribal Fisheries Commission, have provided government agencies and elected officials detailed comment letters identifying the impacts the terminal would have on treaty fishing rights, the environment, natural resources and the health of Washington. Additionally, the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians, representing 57 tribes, has taken action to oppose the increased transport of unrefined fossil fuels of coal, Bakken shale oil, and tar sand oil across the Northwest. The proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal would impact thousands of acres of treaty land and fishing along the rivers and mountains. Tribes across the Northwest have concluded that the impacts of significant increases in rail and vessel transportation cannot be mitigated to any level that would protect tribal treaty rights.

At the heart of the fight for the tribes is a desire to protect sacred sites. At a sacred sites forum, hosted by San Carlos Apache Chairman Terry Rambler and Representative Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), tribal nations called on the Obama Administration and Congress to protect Native sacred sites. The proposed location of the Gateway Pacific Terminal at Cherry Point is the site of an ancient village that has been occupied by the Lummi people for 3,500 years.

“We soundly reject developments that desecrate our sacred places and call on Congress to uphold our treaty-protected rights,” said Ballew.

The tribes have repeatedly asked the U.S. Army Corps (the Corps) to reject any permit applications proposing to build the Gateway Pacific Terminal at Cherry Point, citing significant impacts to treaty rights that cannot be mitigated. The Corps is considering the impacts of the Gateway Pacific Terminal proposal. Senator Steve Daines (R-MT) and Representative Ryan Zinke (R-MT) have led efforts in the House and Senate to urge the Corps to stop its review of the terminal’s impact on treaty rights.

“Senator Daines and other members of Congress have attempted to interfere with the Corps’ review of the shipping terminal’s impact on our treaty rights,” said Ballew. “This sets a dangerous precedent for all of Indian Country if members of Congress step back from their trust responsibility and threaten our rights by interfering with the Corps’ review process. We will not stand for more broken treaty promises.”

“The proposed terminal will result in irreparable harm to our important crab and salmon fisheries,” said Ballew. “Our tribes stand in solidarity with one another to protect our way of life for generations to come.”

Brian Cladoosby, Chair, Swinomish Indian Tribal Community, said “For thousands of years, Washington tribes have fought to protect all that is important for those who call this great state home. No mitigation can pay for the magnitude of destruction to treaty resources for today and generations from now, we need to protect our treaty resources, our economies, and the health of our citizens and neighbors.”

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