Sandra Robson guest writes this article. She has researched and written about the problems with a coal port at Cherry Point for over a year, with 4 articles in the Whatcom Watch and now this 5th article on NWCitizen.
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Brad Owens and John Huntley are the spokespersons for Northwest Jobs Alliance (NJA), which was created to market the Gateway Pacific Terminal (GPT) project at Cherry Point, proposed by SSA Marine/Pacific International Terminal (PIT). They recently co-authored an op-ed in the Bellingham Herald headlined, “Economic prosperity, quality of environment equally important.”
While Owens and Huntley tout the supposed economic prosperity of the proposed 48 million ton coal export terminal, Lummi people, who are the original inhabitants of Washington’s northernmost coast, seem to have a different view of prosperity according to their Schelangen, or Lummi way of life.
Cherry Point is home to a significant environmental resource and unique aquatic ecosystem in the Strait of Georgia. The Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve Management Plan, aimed at protecting the health and aquatic environment of Cherry Point, is a 90-year plan that was put into place in 2000 by the Washington State Department of Natural Resources.
The plan states the Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve’s “marine waters and aquatic lands are a portion of Treaty-protected Usual and Accustomed grounds and stations of local Native American Indians, and are used by the Indians for commercial, ceremonial, and subsistence purposes.”
The National Museum of the American Indian website, a component of the Smithsonian Institute, offers a video about Lummi Nation called, “Our Homeland”, which talks about Schelangen:
“In Lummi territory, the rivers, estuaries, and ocean abound with life. This environment is home to more than 200 species of fish, 200 kinds of birds, and many species of mammals. There are vast forests of cedar and other trees, bushes, and small plants. It’s also the home to several species of salmon.”
“The Lummi developed a deep knowledge of the environment by careful observation. They were expert in biology, botany, and medicine. And most importantly, they learned how to use the resources without using them up. In the Lummi language, this way of life is called schelangen.”
In the waterways in and around Cherry Point, Lummi fishers harvest salmon, halibut, herring, crab and shellfish. An OPB EarthFix article, “Tribal Fisherman Sees Coal Threat Looming,” lists some concerns Lummi Indian Business Council (LIBC) member and fisherman, Jay Julius, has about the proposed coal terminal. Julius “worries that the increased coal tanker [vessel] traffic would harm the tribe’s ability to exercise its treaty-guaranteed rights to harvest these fish and shellfish. . . One accident inside the Salish Sea and my way of life is gone.” Julius added, “If the terminal is built, it could also destroy underwater archaeological sites and upland burial grounds.”
If GPT is built, 487 Panamax and Capesize vessels are expected to call on the terminal, going in and out of Cherry Point every year. There are already oil tankers calling on Cherry Point for the two oil refineries and all these large vessels will be competing for space in the sensitive waters.
The herring population at Cherry Point is dwindling, declining more than 92 percent between the 1970s and 2012. According to “Big Coal meets Cherry Point’s tiny herring,” a Crosscut.com article, “Scientists believe herring make up two thirds of the diet of the federally protected Chinook salmon; the Chinook in turn provide two-thirds of the food supply for Puget Sound Orcas.” Puget Sound Orca are a federally protected species by the Endangered Species Act.
In an April 3, 2014 letter to Governor Jay Inslee, the LIBC stated, “…the Lummi Nation has a treaty right to harvest salmon and shellfish in a manner sufficient to support our Schelangen (‘way of life’).” Schelangen is a right guaranteed and protected by the Treaty of Point Elliott with the U.S. government.
The LIBC wrote in its June 6, 2011 letter to the U.S. Department of Interior that, “The Lummi people have fished in the Nooksack River and the waters of northern Puget Sound since time immemorial. Article V of the Treaty of Point Elliott provides that the ‘right of taking fish from usual and accustomed grounds and stations is further secured to said Indians in common with all citizens of the territory.’”
Furthermore, “The Lummi Nation retains a federal reserved Indian water right to instream flows sufficient to support their treaty fishing rights. ...Lummi also retains a federal reserved water right for consumptive uses necessary to fulfill other purposes of its reservation.”
The letter goes on, “At this time, state-permitted water diversions have reduced flows in the Nooksack River and threaten the fish species that make up the Nation’s treaty fishery. In addition, state sanctioned water withdrawals within the Lummi Reservation threaten the Nation’s reserved water rights on the Reservation.”
Currently, SSA Marine/PIT is contracted (through 2042) with the Whatcom County PUD 1 for a capacity of up to 5.33 million gallons of Nooksack River water daily. This water will be used to spray the 2 ½ miles of 60 ft. tall coal piles to prevent the coal from spontaneously combusting, as well as to try to minimize coal dust.
According to the LIBC, in their January 15, 2013 scoping comment submitted to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers regarding the Environmental Impact Statement for GPT, “Considering the depressed nature of Nooksack River salmon stocks including the listing of early‐run Chinook salmon pursuant to the Endangered Species Act, tribal treaty rights to a sustainable, harvestable surplus of salmon, and the need for instream flows, additional withdrawals from the Nooksack River for this proposed project should not be allowed.”
The LIBC also said that the proposed GPT, and the inter‐related BNSF Custer Spur Rail Expansion projects are both within the Lummi Nation Usual and Accustomed and traditional areas, and will result in significant, unavoidable, and unacceptable interference with their treaty rights and irreversible and irretrievable damage to their spiritual values.
In January 2014, KUOW Public Radio featured a series called, “Sacred Catch,” which explored the fishing rights of Native Americans in Washington state. Lummi elder Ramona Morris gave some insight as to how salmon is the Lummi Nation’s Sacred Catch: “Salmon is sacred to us in a sense. …We’ve been known as ‘The Salmon People.’ That’s our livelihood. That’s our survival. That helps us survive.”