Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission this week released two new videos, including one that shows how tribes are using their treaty rights to protect the environment on behalf of all Northwest residents.
The video was released under the commission’s new communications banner, “Northwest Treaty Tribes: Protecting Natural Resources for Everyone.”
The video describes the Lummi Nation’s success in getting the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to reject the Gateway Pacific Terminal at Cherry Point near Bellingham. If approved, the shipping terminal could have been the transfer point for up to 59 million tons of Montana coal each year. The coal would be transported by train to Cherry Point and onto ships bound for China and other Pacific Rim countries.
The Corps of Engineers halted the permitting process last May, saying the project was too big to be considered de minimis, and it would violate the tribe’s treaty rights to take fish in the usual and accustomed area. See news release.
The video does a nice job of explaining the tribe’s position and the ecological value of fish, including a Cherry Point herring population that has declined so severely that it can no longer support the food web as it once did. Also described well are the cultural values of the Cherry Point site and longtime fishing practices.
Tribal members, including Jay Julius of the Lummi Tribal Council, are able to articulate the concerns about the proposed terminal as well as the elation experienced when the Corps announced its denial of the project.
“When we got that news, it brought tears to many … in our community, because it was like a 500-pound weight off of our chest,” Julius said. “Yes! We got protection!”
Many environmentally minded people were surprised, and pleased, at the outcome. Among them was Crina Hoyer of the Bellingham-based Resources for Sustainable Communities.
“If the Lummi Nation hadn’t taken a leadership role and put their treaty rights on the line, I believe we would still be fighting this coal terminal,” Hoyer said on the video. “And, frankly, I’m not sure that we would have won.
“The fact that they used this treaty to slay this dragon was phenomenal, this treaty that continues to protect us as a community and grants us the ability to live here,” she said.
Not mentioned in the video is a new twist to the story since former Rep. Ryan Zinke of Montana, one of the strongest proponents of the coal terminal, became Interior Secretary in the Trump Administration. Zinke was allied with another Indian tribe, the Crow Nation of Montana, which has a major deposit of coal on its reservation.
“When it comes to coal, here at Crow you’re not going to have controversy,” said Darrin Old Coyote, chairman of the Crow Tribe, in a story in “Inside Energy” magazine. “I don’t want to be dependent on the U.S. government. We have the resources, we have the manpower, we have the capability of being self-sufficient. There’s no reason why we should be this poor.”
Old Coyote has signed a lease option on behalf of the tribe for Cloud Peak Energy to produce up to 1.4 billion tons of coal on the reservation.
Before the Army Corps of Engineers denied the Gateway Pacific Terminal application, Zinke expressed impatience when the applicant, Pacific International Terminals, voluntarily delayed review of the project.
“Thanks to political pressure and the environmental special interests, the Gateway Pacific Terminal is suffering the same bureaucratic death as the Keystone XL Pipeline,” Zinke said in a news release. “The Crow need and deserve for this project to go through; and frankly, there’s no reason it shouldn’t have been approved in a timely, transparent, and fair manner.”
As we know now, the Keystone XL Pipeline is back on track under the order of President Trump. If approved, the pipeline would carry oil from Canada’s oil sands in Alberta to the Gulf Coast. As quoted in the New York Times, Trump told a group of auto executives:
“I am, to a large extent, an environmentalist; I believe in it. But it’s out of control, and we’re going to make it a very short process. And we’re going to either give you your permits, or we’re not going to give you your permits. But you’re going to know very quickly. And, generally speaking, we’re going to be giving you your permits.”
The other video released this week by the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission is a cartoon called “Salmon Problems,” a followup to last year’s “Tribal Fishing 101,” told from a tribal perspective.