The Lummi Nation has fished the waters off the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal for thousands of years. Photo: Matika Wilbur
Article by Sydney Brownstone
The Lummi Nation has successfully invoked its treaty-protected fishing rights to block the construction of the proposed Gateway Pacific coal terminal at Cherry Point, an ancient site also known as the Lummi Nation’s sacred Xwe’chieXen. Had the terminal been built, as many as 54 million tons of material, most of it coal, would have been shipped annually through the Lummi Nation’s ancestral fishing waters. Gateway Pacific would have been the largest coal export facility in North America.
Last year, Lummi leaders asked the US Army Corps of Engineers to reject the permit that would have allowed Pacific International Terminals, a subsidiary of SSA Marine, to build the coal terminal. The tribe cited a vessel traffic report from the Washington State Department of Ecology showing that the coal terminal could disrupt Lummi fishing activity by up to 76 percent. (SSA Marine said this figure was misleading.) Seven more local tribes later joined the Lummi fight, vowing to fight resource extraction facilities that would impact their protected lands and waters. Those same tribes—the Lummi, Tulalip, Lower Elwha, Swinomish, Quinault, Yakama, Hoopa Valley, and Spokane—went to Washington, D.C. in November of last year to protest the Gateway Pacific terminal.
Tim Ballew II, chairman of the Lummi Indian Business Council, released the following statement about today’s Army Corps decision:
This is a historic victory for treaty rights and the constitution. It is a historic victory for the Lummi Nation and our entire region. We are pleased to see that the Corps has honored the treaty and the constitution by providing a decision that recognizes the terminal’s impacts to our fishing rights. This decision is a win for the treaty and protects our sacred site. Our ancient ones at Xwe’chieXen, Cherry Point, will rest protected.
Because of this decision, the water we rely on to feed our families, for our ceremonies and for commercial purposes remains protected. But this is more than a victory for our people; it’s a victory for treaty rights.
Treaty rights shape our region and nation. As tribes across the United States face pressures from development and resource extraction, we’ll continue to see tribes lead the fight to defend their treaty rights, and protect and manage their lands and waters for future generations.
The impact of a coal terminal on our treaty fishing rights would be severe, irreparable and impossible to mitigate.
Today’s victory is monumental and the Corps followed a fair process defined by law to make the right decision. The Corps has honored the treaty between Lummi and the United States.
We will always fight to protect Xwe’chieXen.
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About the author Sydney Brownstone