(UR) Seattle, WA — In January of 2015, the Lummi Nation — the governing body of the Lummi people, a Native American tribe in the Pacific Northwest — asked the United States government to deny a permit that would allow the construction of a coal export terminal near their ancestral fishing grounds. On Sunday, the Associated Press reported that the government’s decision is expected this week.
The Gateway Pacific Terminal, a proposed $700 million project that would facilitate the export of 54 million metric tons of dry bulk commodities, would create an industrial zone in the deep waters of Cherry Point, about a hundred miles north of Seattle.
But the Lummi people insist that such a facility — proposed by Washington-based SSA Marine — would violate the 1855 treaty between the Lummi and the U.S. government that guaranteed the tribe the right to continue to hunt and fish in areas where they’ve done so for centuries.
“The Lummi have harvested at this location since time immemorial and plan to continue into the future,” wrote Tim Ballew II, Chairman of the Lummi Indian Business Council, in the 2015 letter to the Army Corps of Engineers — the federal agency overseeing SSA Marine’s permit application.
In the same letter, Ballew cites a 2014 study prepared for the Washington State Department of Ecology that he claims points to “the inescapable conclusion that the proposed project will directly result in the substantial impairment of the treaty rights of the Lummi Nation throughout the Nations’ ‘usual and accustomed’ fishing areas.”
If approved and constructed, the Gateway Pacific Terminal would be the largest of its kind in the country. Based on the proposed size of the project, the same study estimates that vessel traffic in the area of Cherry Point — known traditionally by the Lummi as Xwe’ chi’ eXen — would increase by 33 percent.
Accordingly, the Lummi people are concerned that such an increase would be accompanied by a host of potentially damaging environmental factors — such as ballast water discharges, vessel collisions, and oil spills, to name a few — that could severely threaten the tribe’s ability to harvest their ancestral waters.
The Lummi, along with Native American tribes and environmental groups from around the country, have opposed the expansion of coal export terminals into the Pacific Northwest for years. And in the case of the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal, the law might be on the Lummi people’s side.
Back in 1992, the Army Corps of Engineers rejected a permit for a salmon farm — which would’ve only had a surface area of 1.41 acres — in nearby Rosario Strait, specifically because it would’ve impacted the Lummi people’s fishing. The Corps’ decision later survived a challenge in a U.S. District Court.
But regardless of the U.S. government’s ruling on the SSA Marine permit, the Lummi have made it clear that the fight to protect their ancestral lands is and will forever be a spiritual one.
“This is the home of the ancient ones,” Lummi Hereditary Chief Bill James Tsilixw said in 2012 at a protest against the Gateway Pacific Terminal, “and it is up to us to protect Mother Earth.”
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