By Lopez No COALition
The news that the Lummi Nation stood firm to “unconditionally and unequivocally” oppose the ill-considered Gateway Pacific Terminal project has brought us joy and humility.
The Lummi’s July 30, 2013 letter to the Army Corps of Engineers brought joy because the tribal opposition to the plan to export 50 million tons of coal from Cherry Point could potentially stop the project by invoking treaty rights. Because Cherry Point is within the Lummi’s Usual and Accustomed grounds and traditional areas, the tribe has a very strong legal case against the project due to its likely interference with treaty guaranteed fishing rights.
This legal case is an entirely separate process from the Environmental Impact Statement process which is underway and led by the Corps in joint collaboration with Whatcom County and the WA State Department of Ecology. Though independent of each other, the two processes are inter-linked and one may delay or impact the other. In a recent press conference, a Corps official stated that the Lummi position might influence the agency to stop processing the GPT permit. In the past, the Corps has refused to process permits on other projects that tribes said would violate treaties.
The Lummi signed the Treaty of Point Elliot with white settlers in 1855 to trade vast amounts of their land and resources in exchange for rights including reserved areas of land (Indian reservations), sovereignty and protection of hunting and fishing rights in their Usual and Accustomed grounds and traditional areas. The treaty is legally binding despite the long passage of time. Treaty fishing rights were reaffirmed and interpreted to mean equitable allocation between the treaty tribes and other WA citizens by the “Boldt decision” in 1974.
It is a common misperception that treaty rights are “special” rights given to native people by the US government because of their racial status, but this is not the case. The government does not “give” treaty rights to anyone – native people reserved them when they signed treaties in a government-to-government relationship.
The Lummi’s firm stance not only protects their own fishing rights and economic benefits, but also ours. Their letter and action are part of their determined efforts to “preserve, promote and protect their Schelangen, “way of life”, in which “everything is connected,” as are the lives of all the plants, animals and people of the Salish Sea. It is with great humility and gratitude that we applaud their leadership and stewardship, yet again, in defending the seventh generation of not only their people but also ours, against potential global harm by GPT coal exportation.
With the Lummi’s courageous lead, it is our turn to do our part. Write letters to editors to publicly recognize the Lummi’s leadership. Write to politicians and local governments of all levels to urge jurisdictions and authorities to give the Lummi Nation the needed acknowledgment and support they deserve.