Northwest tribal leaders fight for government to uphold treaties

Tulalip Tribes Chairman Mel Sheldon speaks at the rally.
Tulalip Tribes Chairman Mel Sheldon speaks at the rally. Photo courtesy Theresa Sheldon, Tulalip Tribes Board of Director.



Lummi Nation Chairman Tim Ballew II and other leaders rally in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, Nov. 5, 2015, to oppose the Gateway Pacific Terminal, which would export primarily coal and expand railways. Ballew says that the project would disregard treaty rights and harm the environment. Grace Toohey McClatchy



BY GRACE TOOHEY, Bellingham Herald


WASHINGTON – A proposed coal terminal and affiliated railway for Cherry Point, Wash., has sparked concern about treaty violations and environmental degradation for many Pacific Northwest tribal leaders, 10 of whom rallied together in Washington, D.C., on Thursday morning against what they said is government disregard for their treaties.

About a block from the White House, three Lummi Nation sisters crooned a song referencing the 1855 U.S. treaty with Pacific Northwest Native American tribes, reserving certain rights for their fishing, hunting and sacred grounds. “What about those promises? Fills my heart with sadness, I can’t do this on my own, we’ve got to come together and be strong,” the women sang.

But Tim Ballew II, chairman of the Lummi Nation, said those rights are in jeopardy.

“All the tribes are standing here today in solidarity to protect not just our reservation community but everybody’s community from the impacts that cannot be mitigated,” Ballew said, standing in front of leaders from the Tulalip, Swinomish, Quinault, Lower Elwha Klallam, Yakama, Hoopa Valley, Nooksack and Spokane nations and the president of United South and Eastern Tribes.

The proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal, a subsidy of SSA Marine, would act as a trading hub between landlocked domestic companies and markets in Asia, said Joe Ritzman, vice president of business development for SSA Marine. The deepwater terminal would handle up to 60 million tons of commodities, primarily coal, and the project would coincide with a railway expansion.


But the project’s designated land includes burial sites for Lummi ancestors and artifacts, Ballew said, and the coastal development would harm age-old fishing traditions within the tribe.

“The location of the pier will take away fishing grounds and the increase in vessel traffic would impede access of our fishermen to fishing grounds throughout our usual and accustomed areas,” Ballew said.

Washington state, Whatcom County and the federal government are reviewing the environmental impacts of the proposed export terminal and associated rail expansion, expecting to release state-local and federal environmental impact statements in 2017. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is the federal review agency, is also inspecting Native American treaty rights at play.

“Our current focus is the impact on treaty fishing rights, and it’s the government’s responsibility to uphold the treaty,” Ballew said.

The Lummi Tribe, whose reservation is minutes from Cherry Point, entered the Treaty of Point Elliot more than 150 years ago, which ensured the sovereign nation right to “fish at usual and accustomed grounds and stations is further secured to said Indians in common with all citizens of the Territory.”

JoDe Goudy, chairman of the Yakama Nation, said his tribe has faced similar treaty battles in Oregon, most recently when the governor halted a proposed coal export plant near their sacred ground and Columbia River fisheries. But now that decision is under appeal, putting their treaty rights at stake again, Goudy said.

“The recognition from us collectively (is) that those reserved rights go hand in hand with our sustained existence as peoples,” Goudy said. “A direct attack on such things, in our hearts and minds, is a direct attack on our sustained existence.”

Not only would the Gateway Pacific Terminal affect the Lummi Nation, Goudy explained, but the proposed railways would transport coal by the Yakama Nation’s portion of the Columbia River.

“This issue affects all of us, we’re connected in ways that the U.S cannot even imagine,” said Tyson Johnson, council member of Nooksack Indian Tribe.

SSA Marine will wait until the state, county and federal environmental reports come out, Ritzman said. But with plans for mitigation strategies and a 75 percent natural buffer of the 1,500 acres for the project, Ritzman said he expects his company’s proposal to meet all state and federal environmental requirements and not impact the fisheries.

President Barack Obama and his administration met with the tribal leaders and many more Thursday afternoon as a part of the White House Tribal Nations Conference.

“I credit the current administration for every year building on our efforts to help us rebuild our nations and I encourage them to continue that,” Ballew said. “We really want them to give this issue its due respect. It’s a human rights issue, it’s a treaty rights issue, and we need our sacred sites protected.”

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State Considers Name Change For Squaw Bay

Library of Congress“Squaw” is not a Coast Salish word, and that renaming the bay “Sq’emenen” would recognize the island’s Coast Salish history.
Library of Congress
“Squaw” is not a Coast Salish word, and that renaming the bay “Sq’emenen” would recognize the island’s Coast Salish history.


Richard Walker, Indian Country Today


The Washington State Committee on Geographic Names was petitioned on August 23 to change the name of Squaw Bay – on Shaw Island in the San Juan Islands – to Sq’emenen Bay.

“Sq’emenen” is the Lummi name for Shaw Island, according to Lummi hereditary chief Bill (Tsilixw) James. The committee will give the proposal initial consideration October 23 in Olympia. The committee, which meets twice a year, will decide in May whether to recommend the change to the state Board on Geographic Names.

The petition is signed by 30 people, among them citizens of several Coast Salish nations with ties to the San Juan Islands.

Noting the controversial nature of the word “squaw,” the petition states that over time the word came to be used “as a term of condescension, as a racialized epithet, and in a way that implies Native American women are second-class citizens or exotic objects.”

It also notes that the word “squaw” is not a Coast Salish word, and that renaming the bay “Sq’emenen” would recognize the island’s Coast Salish history. The Lummi, Samish and other Northern Straits Salish peoples originated in the San Juan Islands, and for thousands of years maintained and harvested resources on all of the islands, including Shaw. The Lummi Nation, Samish Nation and Tulalip Tribes still own land on the islands and have treaty rights and obligations within their historical territory.

Among those writing letters of support for the name change: Washington State Rep. Jeff Morris, Tsimshian, who had a Samish grandfather and grew up on nearby Guemes Island. “The name Sq’emenen is a more authentic and appropriate name and honors the Lummi Tribe and the history of Shaw Island and the surrounding San Juan archipelago,” he wrote.

Residents of Shaw Island met on September 19 to discuss the name-change proposal; residents prefer renaming the bay “Reefnet Bay (Sxwo’le),” because reefnet fishing – which was developed by the Lummi people – is still done there. “Sxwo’le “ (pronounced “shwalla”), is the Lummi word for reefnet. “Using both names teaches the language by seeing the two words together,” a representative said. “We also want to change the road name, Squaw Bay Road [on the island].”

Other governments in the United States have changed place names that contain the word “squaw,” among them the states of Idaho, Maine and Montana; and the city of Buffalo, New York.

In 2003, Squaw Peak in Phoenix, Arizona, was renamed Piestewa Peak to honor Pfc. Lori Piestewa, the first Native American woman to die in combat for the U.S. In 2011, the California Office of Historic Preservation changed the name of a state historical landmark, “Squaw Rock,” in the Russian River canyon, to “Frog Woman Rock,” to honor and respect the cultural heritage of the Pomo peoples of the region.



Sacred Lands vs. King Coal

BY STEPHEN QUIRKE, Earth Island Journal


Indigenous struggles against resource extraction are gathering strength in the Pacific Northwest


Under the breaking waves of Lummi Bay in northwest Washington, salmon, clams, geoducks and oysters are washed in rhythmic cascades from the Pacific Ocean. Just north of here is Cherry Point, home for three intimately related threatened and endangered species: herring, Chinook salmon, and orcas. It is also the home of the Lummi Nation, who call themselves the Lhaq’temish (LOCK-tuh-mish), or the People of the Sea. The Lummi have gone to incredible lengths to protect the health of this marine life, and to uphold the fishing traditions that make their livelihood inseparable from the life of the sea — continuing a bond that has connected them to the salmon for more than 175 generations.


cheery point beach

Photo by Nicholas Quinlan/Photographers for Social ChangeThe Lummi Nation is currently fighting a proposal to build the largest coal export terminal on the continent at Cherry Point.



The Lummi Nation is currently fighting the largest proposed coal export terminal on the continent (read “Feeding the Tiger,” EIJ Winter 2013). If completed, the Gateway Pacific Terminal would move up to 54 million tons of coal from Cherry Point to Asian markets every year. The transport company BNSF Railway plans to enable the terminal by adding adjacent rail infrastructure, installing a second track along the six-mile Custer Spur to make room for coal trains.

The project is one of many coal export facilities proposed across the US by the coal extraction and transportation industry. In the face of falling domestic demand for the highly polluting fossil fuel, the industry is pinning its survival on exporting coal to power hungry Asia, especially China.

The Gateway proposal has sparked massive opposition from the Lummi, who say it will interfere with their fishing fleet, harm marine life, and trample on an ancient village site that has been occupied by the Lummi for 3,500 years. The village, Xwe’chieXen (pronounced Coo-chee-ah-chin) is the resting place of Lummi ancestors, and contains numerous sacred sites that the Lummi assert a sacred obligation to protect. The Lummi’s connection to their first foods, and to the village site that holds their ancestors’ remains, goes the very heart of who they are as a people, and the Nation has pledged to protect both “by any means necessary”.

The Lummi are no strangers to stopping harmful development. In the mid-1990s they managed to stop a fish farm in the bay; in 1967 they fought back a magnesium-oxide plant on Lummi Bay that would have turned the bay lifeless with industrial waste.

This article is part of our series examining the Indigenous movement of resistance and restoration.

The new threat to the Lummi Nation is being proposed by the global shipping giant SSA Marine. The coal would be supplied by Peabody Energy and Cloud Peak Energy — companies that mine in Montana and Wyoming’s Powder River Basin. It was also backed by Goldman Sachs until January 2014, when the company pulled its substantial investment from the project.

Jay Julius, a fisherman and Lummi Nation council member had attended the firm’s annual shareholders meeting back in 2013 and urged it to “take a look at the risk” of their investment.

Another coal export proposal of similar scale has been proposed in Longview, Washington about 235 miles south from Cherry Point. This has been opposed by the Cowlitz Tribe, who object to the impacts that coal would bring to the air and water quality along the Columbia River. This terminal would also create serious harm to another Native tribe at the point of extraction, 1,200 miles away in the Powder River Basin.

The Millennium Bulk Terminal in Longview is a joint proposal from the Australia-based Ambre Energy and Arch Coal, the US’ second largest coal producer after Peabody.

The terminal, which would export up to 48.5 million tons of coal annually, would be supported by Arch Coal’s proposed Otter Creek Mine in southeastern Montana (bordering Wyoming). If built, the mine could produce an estimated 1.3 billion tons of coal, and would span 7,639 acres along the eastern border of the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation. This would be the largest mine ever in the United States.


loaded coal trains

Photo by Mike Danneman Coal trains operated by BNSF would haul coal from the Powder River Basin in Wyoming and Montana to a series of proposed export terminals along the Pacific Northwest coast.


To connect the proposed mine to West Coast ports, Arch Coal and BNSF Railway want to build a new 42-mile railroad — called the Tongue River Railroad — through the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation. Members of the Northern Cheyenne Nation and their allies have pledged fierce resistance if regulators approve the mine and the railroad, which they say, would have significant impacts on public health and the environment. According to BNSF, anywhere from 500 pounds to 1 ton of coal can escape from a single loaded rail car – on trains pulling 125 cars.

At a June hearing on the railroad organized by the US Surface Transportation Board, federal regulators heard nothing but fierce opposition to the proposed mine and its enabling railroad. A significant proportion of the Lame Deer community from the Northern Cheyenne Reservation turned out to the hearing. Their opposition to the project was echoed by local ranchers.

One rancher told the officials that they needed to understand the importance of history when they propose such unprecedented projects. “Northern Cheyenne history is very sad –  it’s tragic – and they have fought with blood to be where they are tonight.”

“My ancestors have only been buried here for about four or five generations,” he said, but “we know of lithic scatters, we know of buffalo jumps, we know of stone circles, camp sites, vision quest sites… and it is my obligation as a land owner, even though I am not a member of this Nation, that we protect what is there.”

One tribal member, Sonny Braided Hair, was more explicit in his history lesson. “Let us heal,” he said, “or we’ll show you the true meaning of staking ourselves to this land.” He was referring to the Cheyenne warrior society known as the Dog Soldiers, who became legendary in the mid-1800s for holding their ground in battle by staking themselves to the earth with a rope tied at the waist.

Such concerns about sacred sites are too often validated. In July of 2011, before applying for any permits, SSA Marine began construction at a designated archeological site in the ancient Lummi village at Cherry Point, where the Lummi have warned of numerous sacred sites, and where 3,000 year-old human remains have been found.

Pacific International Terminals had earlier promised the Army Corps of Engineers that this site would not be disturbed, and that the Lummi Nation would be consulted before any construction began nearby. They also acknowledged their legal obligation to have an archaeologist on staff when working within 200 feet of the site, along with a pre-made “inadvertent discovery” plan if any protected items were disturbed. Despite all of these assurances, the company illegally sent in survey crews to make way for their terminal, where they drilled about 70 boreholes, built 4 miles of roads, cleared 9 acres of forest, and drained about 3 acres of wetlands.

In August, Whatcom County, Washington, (where Cherry Point is located) issued a Notice of Violation to Pacific International Terminals, and the Department of Natural Resources documented numerous violations of the state Forest Practices Act. The total fines and penalties, however, added up to only about $5,000.

That’s a small price to pay for early geotechnical information, says Philip S. Lanterman, a leading expert on construction management for such projects. According to Lanterman, the information provided by those illegal boreholes was probably a huge economic benefit to the planned project. Needless to say, the meager fines don’t come close to discouraging the behavior. For opponents this incident is just a taste of things to come, and one resounding reason to never trust King Coal.

In the face of such blatant violations of their treaty rights, several Native tribes in North America — from the Powder River Basin, through the Columbia River to the Salish Sea —have banded together and declared that it is their sacred duty to protect their ancestral territories, sacred sites, and natural resources.

In May 2013, the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians (ATNI) unanimously adopted a resolutionopposing fossil fuel extraction and export projects in the Pacific NorthwestIn the resolution, the 57 ATNI Tribes of Oregon, Idaho, Washington, southeast Alaska, Northern California, Nevada and Western Montana voiced, “unified opposition” to investors and transporters and exporters of fossil fuel energy, “who are proposing projects in the ancestral territories of ATNI Tribes.” The resolution specifically calls for protection of the Lummi Nation’s treaty-protected fishing rights, and the sacred places that would be affected by the Cherry Point project.

Indigenous resistance to these projects has been bolstered by allies in the environmental movement who have been fighting the export of US coal to foreign markets in the East. Of 15 recent proposals to build major new coal export facilities across the US, all but four (including Gateway and Millennium) have been defeated or canceled within the past two years.

In January this year, the Lummi Nation asked the Army Corps to immediately abandon the environmental review for Gateway Pacific and the Custer Spur rail expansion, stating that the project violates their reserved and treaty-protected fishing rights. If the environmental review is abandoned, the Army Corps would have effectively cancelled the project. In response to this letter the Army Corps gave SSA Marine until May 10 to respond, but later extended the deadline by another 90 days. Environmental reviews of the terminal and BNSF’s Custer Spur rail expansion are due in mid-2016, but it appears likely that the Army Corps will have rejected the Gateway Pacific terminal by then, rendering any rail expansion redundant.


people gathered around a totem pole

Photo courtesy of Sierra ClubIn 2013, James launched a totem pole journey to build solidarity for Indigenous-led struggles against fossil fuels, including the struggle to protect Xwe’chieXen. Pictured here, ranchers, environmentalists, and members of the Northern Cheyenne totem pole blessing ceremony in Billings, Montana.


In order to keep the pressure on, leaders from nine Native American tribes gathered in Seattle on May 14 to urge the Army Corps to deny permits for SSA Marine. “The Lummi Nation is proud to stand with other tribes who are drawing a line in the sand to say no to development that interferes with our treaty rights and desecrates sacred sites,” said Tim Ballew II, Chair of the Lummi Indian Business Council. “The Corps has a responsibility to deny the permit request and uphold our treaty.”

The Lummi have clearly had important successes in stopping harmful development in the past. But with so much on the line for coal companies, can they really use treaty rights to stop a coal terminal of this size? “Without question,” says Gabe S. Galanda, a practicing attorney specializing in tribal law in Washington State. “Indian Treaties are the supreme law of the land under the United States Constitution, and Lummi’s Treaty-guaranteed rights to fish are paramount at Cherry Point.” If the Army Corps decides to deny their permit, Galanda says that coal developers would find it “very difficult if not impossible” to successfully challenge them. By contrast, he says, “the Lummi Nation would have very strong grounds to attack and invalidate” any approval that the Army Corps might grant to the coal exporters.

In a similar case last year, Oregon’s Department of State Lands denied a key building permit for Ambre Energy’s coal export terminal project in Boardman, Oregon. The terminal was planned directly on top of a traditional fishing site of the Yakama Nation. In both Boardman and Cherry Point, the coal companies have implied that the protected Indigenous sites that would be harmed by their projects either do not exist, or that the tribes using them are too incompetent to know their true location.

Just two years after filing paperwork with Whatcom County admitting that they had “disturbed items of Native American archeological significance”, Bob Watters of SSA marine wrote “Claims that our project will disturb sacred burial sites are absolutely incorrect and fabricated by project opponents.”

One of the Cherry Point Terminal’s most fierce opponents is the diplomat, land defender and master carver Jewell Praying Wolf James. James is the head of the Lummi House of Tears Carvers, and has created a tradition out of carving and delivering totem poles to places that are in need of hope and healing.

In 2013, James launched a totem pole journey to build solidarity for Indigenous-led struggles against fossil fuels, including the struggle to protect Xwe’chieXen. James traveled 1,200 miles with his totem pole in 2013 — from the Powder River Basin to the Tsleil Waututh Nation across the Canadian border. In 2014, he launched another 6,000-mile totem pole journey in honor of revered tribal leader Billy Frank Jr, a Nisqually tribal member and hero of the fishing rights struggle. Frank passed away on May 5, 2014 — the same day he published his final piece condemning coal and oil trains.

These totem pole journeys have gained international attention as pilgrimages of hope, healing, decolonization, and Native resistance to the extractive industries.

At the end of August, James concluded his third regional totem pole journey against fossil fuels, carrying the banner of resistance to many tribes who are standing up as fossil fuel projects get knocked down. He held blessing ceremonies in Boardman and Portland where coal and propane projects were recently shot down, passed through the Lummi Nation and Longview where coal has yet to be defeated, and ended in the Northern Cheyenne Nation at Lame Deer, where the community has rallied in opposition to a mine whose devastation would reverberate from Montana, down the Columbia River, and up to Cherry Point.

“There are many of us who are joining, from the Lakota all the way to the West Coast, to the Lummi, south to the Apache, up to the Canadian tribes,” said Northern Cheyenne organizer Vanessa Braided Hair at a recent Tongue River Railroad hearing. “We’re gonna fight, and we’re not gonna stop.”



Lummi tribe says talk of Cherry Point land grab is a fabrication



BY RALPH SCHWARTZ, The Bellingham Herald


A nonprofit with close ties to a proposed coal terminal at Cherry Point is telling local and federal agencies that Lummi Nation plans to take over part or all of Cherry Point in an effort to “de-industrialize” an area that already includes two oil refineries and an aluminum smelter.

Lummi Chairman Tim Ballew called the claim a fabrication and a distraction from the tribe’s effort to halt Gateway Pacific Terminal through an exercise of its treaty rights to fish near Cherry Point and elsewhere in north Puget Sound.

“There’s just no way they could be blowing the cover on some plan we don’t have,” Ballew said.

Northwest Jobs Alliance wrote to the Whatcom County Planning Commission and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers last month, asking them to oppose a tribal takeover of Cherry Point.

“It has come to our attention that there are those who would de-industrialize the Cherry Point (industrial area), but this rather radical notion would not serve the public interest,” the Alliance wrote in an Aug. 12 letter to the Planning Commission. The letter was signed by Chairman John Huntley and President Brad Owens.

Not named in the letter was Craig Cole, who is listed in the state’s corporations database as the director of the Northwest Jobs Alliance. Cole also was hired to do public relations for Gateway Pacific Terminal’s proponent, SSA Marine.

Cole said on Friday, Sept. 11, he is one of more than 100 members of the Alliance.

“I am one of the directors and support its focus on family-wage job growth and retention,” Cole said, along with “the continued viability of the Cherry Point industrial area.”

The Alliance delivered its message to the public in a press release on Thursday, Sept. 10.

The release refers to “a plan by the Lummi Nation to annex Cherry Point to its reservation.” The Alliance equivocates on just how much land it believes the tribe would take, but in some of its statements the group assumes the worst.

“It would decimate the job and tax base of the county, in particular the budgets of the Ferndale and Blaine school districts and Fire District 7, for which Cherry Point industries carry much of the tax load,” Huntley said in the release.

“While the Lummi people themselves and their treaty rights deserve great respect, this ploy to snatch nontribal land is just plain wrong,” the Alliance said in an Aug. 20 letter to the Corps.

The Alliance points to a single page that it claims is a “Lummi Nation planning document” from 2012. The page describes a strategy that includes defeating the coal terminal, acquiring Cherry Point and placing it in trust.

Tribes can ask the federal government to acquire properties and hold them in trust for tribal use, even land outside a tribe’s reservation.

Lummi Chairman Ballew reviewed the document and said it did not come from the tribe.

“What they presented definitely has not been produced by the Nation,” he said.

Owens didn’t answer directly when asked by a reporter if the Alliance believed Lummi Nation wanted to tear down existing industries at Cherry Point.

“The indicators are that they’re in opposition to growth at Cherry Point, and that their goal is to acquire Cherry Point property and have it placed in trust,” Owens said.

Cole said the documented evidence of the tribe’s intentions said “in an unambiguous way” that the tribe is intent on taking Cherry Point land.

“Some of it is pretty direct,” he said.

Documents used by the Alliance to support its claim include a 2012 resolution by the Lummi Indian Business Council to acquire Cherry Point “in order to prevent any further projects” and protect the cultural value of the area “in perpetuity.”

The only property specifically mentioned by the tribe for acquisition was the terminal site, and only after the coal terminal project was defeated. The documents say any acquisition of the terminal site would happen through negotiations with its owner, SSA Marine — not through a forceful snatching of the land, as the Alliance stated.

Ballew, who was not chairman when the 2012 ordinance was approved but sat on the council, acknowledged that acquiring a portion of Cherry Point was “a part of the operative part of the resolution.”

“But the more significant policy statement in that resolution is to protect the site,” Ballew said. “That doesn’t mean necessarily that the tribe acquires the land.”

“As far as I know the property isn’t for sale, and we haven’t taken that into consideration,” he said.

Ballew emphasized the importance of protecting the tribe’s cultural heritage at the coal terminal location, which he said was the site of an ancestral village. For now, he said, the tribe is focused on protecting its fishing rights through its request to the Corps to stop Gateway Pacific Terminal.

“They’re fabricating a false conspiracy,” Ballew said. “This is a distraction to our request to the Corps to protect our treaty rights.”

The tribe says the terminal pier and up to 487 ships per year traveling to and from the port would do irreparable harm to tribal fishing. At full capacity, Gateway Pacific Terminal would export 48 million metric tons of coal a year to overseas markets.

In its letter, the Alliance asked the Corps to “publicly disassociate” itself from the tribe’s takeover plans and reject its request to halt the terminal project.

Corps spokeswoman Patricia Graesser said the agency continues to consider the tribe’s request.

“The Army Corps of Engineers is focused on evaluating the actual proposal we have in hand for the Gateway Pacific Terminal and not on speculation regarding what may or may not happen with regard to future property ownership at Cherry Point,” she said.

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Canoe trip celebrates Native Americans

canoe journey

By Katelyn Doggett, The Northern Light

An opportunity to witness traditional Native American culture will occur this summer during a two-day event on Friday and Saturday, July 24–25.

The G’ana’k’w Canoe Family, the Lummi Nation and the Semiahmoo Nation, paddling three handmade canoes, will arrive at Telescope Beach at Marine Park on Friday, July 24 during their annual multi-nation canoe journey. Other tribe members wearing traditional regalia will welcome them to the land with singing, drumming and a traditional canoe arrival ceremony.

Blaine residents Ron Snyder and Cathy Taggett, who own Circle of Trees Studio and Homestead and are members of the G’ana’k’w Canoe Family, are helping coordinate the arrival ceremony and a potlatch, which will be held on Saturday, July 25.

This will be the first time in more than 100 years that native canoes have made Blaine their destination and not just a short stop on a journey to another location. The multi-family canoe journeys began in the Northwest in 1986 and have occurred annually since 1993, Snyder said.

The G’ana’k’w Canoe Family’s goal has been to involve more tribal communities in the Northwest in showing pride in their heritage and preserving their customs, Snyder said. The annual canoe journeys provide the opportunity to teach culture to their youth as well as community members, he said.

“Every year there has been a hosted gathering but it has become too expensive,” Snyder said. “We want to keep these traditions alive for our youth, so we are doing shorter journeys.”

Blaine was chosen as the destination this year because of its proximity to where most the families are located and because Snyder and Taggett are locals.

Community members are welcome to witness the ceremony, which will start when the canoes arrive around 1 p.m. on Friday in order to take advantage of the high tide. The arrival is the culmination of a 60-mile, four-day journey from Cama Beach on Camano Island starting on July 21. Other stops along the way include the Swinomish Nation near La Conner, the Lummi Nation and Sucia Marine State Park.

The ceremony will be very traditional, Snyder said. Tribe members will arrive singing songs in their native languages and continue to follow traditional protocol.

“Traditions were rediscovered when the canoe journeys started up,” Taggett said. “We looked at how things used to be done in order to teach the youth and to teach each other.”

As the canoes arrive, a speaker in each canoe will ask permission from the elders of the tribes to come on land. Once granted permission and thanking the Blaine community for welcoming them, the members will turn the canoes around and arrive backwards. Arriving backwards is a safety tactic started long ago since it is easier to paddle forward than backwards, Snyder said. The canoes will then be lifted onto the land because it is considered disrespectful to drag them, he said.

A potlatch will be held at around 6 p.m. on Saturday. Members of the public are welcome to attend. The potlatch will have speakers, singing, dancing and gift giving. Many community members will receive a gift, since a potlatch is traditionally an event where wealth is given away and shared in order to build a stronger community.

“I think the public will find it interesting to find out about another culture and way of life and become aware that there were native people here,” Taggett said. “It’s a big part of the history of the area.”

The journey is supported by grants and volunteer work from community members and businesses. To prepare, the members have been practicing paddling and maneuvering the canoes and everyone involved has received cold water capsize training.

Snyder and Taggett have been giving presentations about the canoe journey at libraries, schools and city meetings, and many members have been busy making gifts, food to freeze and traditional regalia and preparing songs and stories for the potlatch, Snyder said.

To volunteer, contribute or ask questions contact Ron Snyder or Cathy Taggett by phone at 360/305-8231 or 360/332-8082 and by email at

Pollution partially closes nearly 500 acres of Portage Bay shellfish beds

Ralph Solomon holds clams at the sea sea pond on the Lummi Reservation in this 2003 photo, shortly before the tribe reopened shellfish beds that were closed in 1996 due to poor water quality.THE BELLINGHAM HERALD

Ralph Solomon holds clams at the sea sea pond on the Lummi Reservation in this 2003 photo, shortly before the tribe reopened shellfish beds that were closed in 1996 due to poor water quality.


By Kie Relyea, Bellingham Herald


LUMMI RESERVATION — Commercial shellfish harvesting is being banned on nearly 500 acres of Portage Bay for about half the year because of worsening water quality caused by fecal coliform bacteria, the Washington state Department of Health announced Tuesday, March 24.

Portage Bay is home to Lummi Nation’s ceremonial, subsistence and commercial shellfish beds.

State health officials last week changed the classification of nearly 500 of the 1,300 commercial shellfish harvesting acres in the bay from “approved” to “conditionally approved” because of water quality. That means harvesting in the conditionally approved area will be closed each year April through June and again October through December.

Those are the months when tests show the bay is affected by polluted runoff from the Nooksack River carrying higher levels of bacteria into the shellfish harvesting area, the state said.

The partial closure will remain until water quality improves, said Scott Berbells, manager of the growing area section for the department’s Office of Environmental Health and Safety.

The state’s action follows one taken by Lummi Nation in September, when the tribe closed 335 acres in Portage Bay to shellfish harvesting.

The tribe consulted with the state Department of Health and volunteered to do so Sept. 3 after levels exceeded federal standards for commercial shellfish harvest.

Those 335 acres are within the 500 acres downgraded by the state.

“This closure is devastating for the approximately 200 families on the Lummi Reservation who make their living harvesting shellfish,” Lummi Nation Chairman Timothy Ballew II said in a news release.

Fecal coliform bacteria come from human and animal feces. The bacteria enter Whatcom County’s waterways in several ways — horse and cow manure, pet and wildlife waste, and failing septic systems — and indicate there could be pathogens absorbed by the shellfish that may sicken people who eat them.

This isn’t the first time the tribe has closed its shellfish beds in Portage Bay because of fecal coliform pollution. It did so in 1996 because of high levels of fecal coliform in the Nooksack River and streams that empty into Portage Bay.

At that time, the state Department of Ecology and the Environmental Protection Agency led a cleanup plan using state legislation approved in 1998 that required dairy farms to undergo routine inspections and create written plans for how they would contain manure and prevent it from washing into public waterways. Before 1998, dairy farms were inspected only if a complaint was made about a farmer.

Failing septic systems and municipal sewage systems also were addressed.

The effort cleaned up the Nooksack River and its tributaries and allowed 625 acres of tribal shellfish beds to reopen in 2003, and the last 115 acres to reopen three years later.

“During the last 10-year closure, the tribal community lost jobs and millions in revenue. Ultimately, the closure affects all Lummi people because this shellfish area is sacred to our people and critical to our way of life,” Ballew said.

In recent years, the Lummis have expressed concern about water quality once again degrading because cuts to budgets and enforcement created regulatory gaps.

State officials also have been warning about worsening water quality.

“We’ve seen declining water quality in Portage Bay since about 2008. A number of stations have been steadily getting worse,” Barbells said.

Cleanup efforts are once again underway in the watershed.

In 2014, Whatcom County received funding from the EPA to strengthen a locally led effort to identify and clean up pollution sources.

Lummi Natural Resources, Whatcom Conservation District, and the state departments of Health, Agriculture and Ecology are working with Whatcom County and the Portage Bay Shellfish Protection District on the Portage Bay cleanup.

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Pro-coal Montana tribe weighs in on Cherry Point terminal

Representatives of Cloud Peak Energy and Montana's Crow Tribe sign an agreement Thursday Jan. 24, 2013, that gives the mining company leasing options on 1.4 billion tons of coal beneath the Crow Indian Reservation, in Billings, Mont. Pictured from left are Cloud Peak legal counsel Amy Stefonick, company chief executive Colin Marshall, Crow Tribal Chairman Darrin Old Coyote and Tribal Executive Secretary Alvin Not Afraid. The deal would expand mining on the reservation with the coal likely to be exported overseas. MATTHEW BROWN — AP
Representatives of Cloud Peak Energy and Montana’s Crow Tribe sign an agreement Thursday Jan. 24, 2013, that gives the mining company leasing options on 1.4 billion tons of coal beneath the Crow Indian Reservation, in Billings, Mont. Pictured from left are Cloud Peak legal counsel Amy Stefonick, company chief executive Colin Marshall, Crow Tribal Chairman Darrin Old Coyote and Tribal Executive Secretary Alvin Not Afraid. The deal would expand mining on the reservation with the coal likely to be exported overseas. MATTHEW BROWN — AP


BY RALPH SCHWARTZ, The Bellingham Herald


Lummi Nation, which has fished the waters off Cherry Point for centuries, and Crow Nation, a tribe in Montana sitting on billions of tons of coal, have taken opposite stances on a proposed coal terminal on the Lummis’ historic fishing grounds.

Crow Chairman Darrin Old Coyote wrote the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Jan. 20, asking the federal agency to bring the two tribes together to discuss Gateway Pacific Terminal.  The Crow letter was in response to request on Jan. 5 from Lummi Nation to the Corps, asking the agency to reject the terminal because it interfered with the Lummis’ ancient fishing practices, which were reinforced in U.S. law by an 1855 treaty.

The terminal is currently under environmental review.

“We are concerned about recent news reports that Lummi is asking the (Corps) to stop the environmental review process based on perceived impacts to their treaty fishing rights,” Old Coyote wrote.

In its  response, dated March 10, the Corps said it would not organize meetings between the tribes. The agency suggested the Crow ask the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

“The Corps wouldn’t be the appropriate agency to facilitate such a meeting,” Corps spokeswoman Patricia Graesser said on Friday, March 20, in an email to The Bellingham Herald.

Leaders at Crow Nation were not available for comment on Friday.

The Corps said it would meet a different request from the Crow, to keep the tribe informed about the Corps’ review of Gateway Pacific Terminal and to include in that review, when appropriate, the Montana tribe’s position.

What’s at stake for Crow Nation is the 2013 agreement between the tribe and Cloud Peak Energy that would allow the mining company to extract 1.4 billion tons of coal from Crow land. The deal has already enriched the Crow by at least $3.75 million and would be worth millions of dollars more, depending on the amount of coal mined.

That, in turn, could depend on whether Gateway Pacific Terminal is built. Coal that would pass through the Cherry Point terminal would come from Montana and Wyoming.

“The Gateway Pacific Terminal project will ensure access to markets for Crow coal,” the tribal chairman’s letter said. Old Coyote has said in media reports that two-thirds of the Crow’s budget comes from coal revenue.

The Lummis have hosted the Crow at Cherry Point and have told the Montana tribe about the anticipated disruptions to Puget Sound fishing areas, Lummi Chairman Tim Ballew said.

“We’ve done extensive fact finding with other governments, including the federal government and other tribes,” Ballew said in an interview on Thursday, March 19. “We’ve come to the decision that our treaty right cannot be mitigated.”

“We have an explicit treaty fishing right that the Corps needs to respond to,” Ballew added. “That letter and request from the Crow is not a setback.”

The Lummis  on March 5 sent the Corps details about the tribe’s fishing practices in response to a request from the Corps for more information, to support the tribe’s Jan. 5 request that the coal terminal be stopped. Ballew said Thursday the tribe had not yet heard back from the Corps.

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Lummi Nation Shellfish Hatchery Adds All-Night Algae Feeders

Lummi’s shellfish hatchery grows its own algae to feed millions of geoduck, manila and oyster seeds.
Lummi’s shellfish hatchery grows its own algae to feed millions of geoduck, manila and oyster seeds.

By: Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission


The Lummi Nation’s shellfish hatchery is adding an all-night feeding system to its algae-growing operation.

For years, the hatchery has grown its own algae to feed growing manila clam, geoduck and oyster larvae. The new system installed this winter consists of 60 algae-filled bags in glowing Gatorade shades that pump directly into the raceways.

One of the hatchery’s three geoduck systems consists of 11 raceways that hold about 6 million geoduck seeds, which can go through 30,000 liters of algae a day.

“The new algae bag system will operate 24-7,” said Flavian Point, Lummi shellfish hatchery manager. “Overnight, it can produce an amount of algae that is equivalent to one of the hatchery’s 15,000-liter algae tanks.”

The geoduck operation has a total of 20 raceways when all three systems are online, having expanded from five raceways since 2010.

The expansion has provided new job opportunities. In addition to eight full-time staff, AmeriCorps provides five employees for 20 hours each week, and two tribal members have been hired through the Dislocated Fishers Program, which helps fishermen earn a living between fishing seasons.

The shellfish hatchery used to support itself through seed sales until the Lummi Nation took over operating costs in exchange for manila clam and oyster seed to enhance the reservation tidelands for tribal harvest. Only the geoduck seed is sold commercially.

Concerned about increasing water temperatures as a result of climate change, some of the geoduck seed customers, which include the Squaxin Island Tribe, have started seeding their beds earlier, which required the hatchery to spawn geoducks a month earlier.

“The goal is to get the seed planted before the water temperatures get too warm,” Point said. “The seed is looking good and the larvae on schedule to be ready in April.”

Northwest Indian College builds Lummi workforce, values tradition


BY TIM BALLEW II, Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald


For thousands of years, along the shorelines of the Salish Sea, the Lummi people have dug deep into the earth to harvest clams, oysters and mussels. We have set our reef nets between our canoes to catch salmon from the Salish Sea. For many of us, our most important education has been alongside our elders at the beach or on the water, learning firsthand by doing, and doing again, to understand the ways of our people and the history of our tribe.

But even as we hold fast to traditions, we’ve also embraced changing times, new technology and the advanced training that’s needed to support a productive shellfish harvest. What we’ve learned through the years is that a skilled workforce — and a bountiful harvest — are possible if we make the right investments in training and education.

In 1973, our tribe established the Lummi School of Aquaculture as a way to train a new generation of native technicians to staff the growing number of Indian-owned fish and shellfish hatcheries in the U.S. and Canada. From this single-purpose school, a foundation was built for what later became the Lummi Community College that gave Pacific Northwest natives the opportunity to earn an associate’s degree. In 1989, in recognition of the changing and growing needs of students, the community college became Northwest Indian College.

Today, the four-year college provides a high-quality post-secondary education for 1,064 students at our main campus on the Lummi reservation, plus six satellite campuses in Washington and Idaho. We offer bachelor and associate degrees, plus certificate programs in areas that include environmental science, tribal governance, native studies, hospitality and construction.

At the heart of the Northwest Indian College is the understanding that as native people, we must provide for all levels of learning within our own community. According to the American Indian College Fund, fewer than 13 percent of American Indian and Alaska native students earn a college degree, compared to 28 percent of other racial groups. The reasons for this are complex, ranging from poverty and low rates of high school graduation, to students’ perceptions that college is out of reach academically, too far from home, or not aligned with their values and culture. One answer to this challenge is to provide an education for native students on the reservation, where they can have the support of their community and the comforts of home.

At Lummi Nation, we know we have a responsibility to build our workforce and provide an education that is steeped in the values of our traditions and history. As a member of the larger community of Whatcom County and the Pacific Northwest, we’re also pleased to provide a degree to all students, regardless of whether they’re tribal members. We’ve done this, in part, by partnering with Western Washington University and Washington State University to provide an even broader learning experience for our students.

Our strong focus on education is why we’ve been able to grow a small school for hatchery technicians into a college that serves more than 1,000 people looking to further their education and careers. I would love to see the day when the college becomes Salish Sea University, flying a flag printed with the Lummi-invented reef net, where students from across the nation and world come to learn.

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Lummi Nation rejects coal terminal applicant’s invitation to negotiate

Members of the Lummi Nation protested the proposed coal export terminal at Cherry Point on Sept. 21, 2012, by burning a large check stamped "Non-Negotiable." On Tuesday, Feb. 3, 2015, Lummi Chairman Tim Ballew reiterated that stance, saying the tribe’s treaty rights were “not for sale” and the tribe would not negotiate with the company proposing the terminal.PHILIP A. DWYER — THE BELLINGHAM HERALD
Members of the Lummi Nation protested the proposed coal export terminal at Cherry Point on Sept. 21, 2012, by burning a large check stamped “Non-Negotiable.” On Tuesday, Feb. 3, 2015, Lummi Chairman Tim Ballew reiterated that stance, saying the tribe’s treaty rights were “not for sale” and the tribe would not negotiate with the company proposing the terminal.


By Ralph Schwartz, Bellingham Herald


Lummi Nation sent another clear message about a proposed coal terminal on Tuesday, Feb. 3: Under no terms will it accept Gateway Pacific Terminal at Cherry Point, an area near the Lummi Reservation with cultural and economic value to the tribe.

Lummi Chairman Tim Ballew  responded Tuesday to a Friday, Jan. 30,  request from terminal proponent SSA Marine to meet face to face and discuss how to “harmonize the facility with the environment.”

“I can assure you that we have carefully considered the impacts associated with this project and have concluded that these impacts simply cannot be avoided, minimized, or mitigated,” Ballew wrote in his response to Skip Sahlin, vice president of project development for Pacific International Terminals, an SSA Marine subsidiary created to develop Gateway Pacific Terminal.

“While we appreciate your desire to engage on these issues, we remain steadfastly opposed to this project and do not see the utility in pursuing any further discussion,” Ballew added.

Officials at SSA Marine had no comment.

Ballew sent  a letter Jan. 5 on behalf of the Lummi Indian Business Council to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, asking the agency to immediately reject a permit for the coal terminal because it would interfere with the tribe’s fishing grounds. The tribe has a right granted by an 1855 treaty to fish in its customary areas, which include Cherry Point and the shipping lanes that would see more traffic with the opening of Gateway Pacific Terminal.

Plans indicate the terminal could open as early as 2019 and would export up to 48 million metric tons of coal a year overseas.

Corps spokeswoman Patricia Graesser said the agency would give an initial response to the Lummis’ request on Wednesday, Feb. 4, but it wouldn’t be a decision on whether to reject the permit.

As determined in past court cases about disruptions to tribal fishing areas, the Corps needs to decide whether Gateway Pacific Terminal would have impacts that were more than negligible. Lummi Nation in its request to the Corps cites a vessel traffic study, which concluded that the traffic added by the terminal’s operation would increase by 73 percent the disruption of Lummi fishing by vessels.

In reaching out to the Lummis on Friday, Jan. 30, Sahlin mentioned the politics around the coal terminal decision, “and the pressure from many divergent interests to sway decision making.”

SSA Marine officials have accused terminal opponents of  getting the facts wrong. Sahlin said in his letter that more productive discussions would result if SSA Marine and Lummi Nation met face to face, as they have previously.

“We would welcome the opportunity to a return to such a fact-based interaction,” Sahlin wrote.

“Negotiation between Lummi and Pacific International Terminals is not an option,” Ballew said in a prepared statement. “Our treaty rights are non-negotiable and not for sale.”

In an interview, Ballew said the Corps in consultations with the tribe could reach a decision on the Lummi request in months rather than years. Graesser said in an email to The Bellingham Herald the Corps’ decision does not have a deadline.

The Corps will continue to draft an environmental impact statement for the terminal, a step that comes before permit approvals.

“I’m of the opinion that this government-to-government consultation (between the Corps and the tribe) puts the EIS process on the back burner,” Ballew said, “and their attention now should be on … making a decision based on the information that we’ve given them.”

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