Tribes prevail, kill proposed coal terminal at Cherry Point

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers sided with Northwest tribes Monday in a decision to block the largest proposed bulk-shipping terminal in North America at Cherry Point.


Lummi hereditary chief Bill James, on the beach at Cherry Point, says saving it is to preserve "the tribe's very way of life." It's the site of an ancient Lummi village. (Alan Berner/The Seattle Times)
Lummi hereditary chief Bill James, on the beach at Cherry Point, says saving it is to preserve “the tribe’s very way of life.” It’s the site of an ancient Lummi village. (Alan Berner/The Seattle Times)


By Linda V. Mapes, Seattle Times 

The Lummi Nation has prevailed in its fight to block the largest coal port ever proposed in North America, at Cherry Point.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the agency reviewing permits for the deep water port project, agreed with the tribe Monday that it could not grant a permit for a project that would infringe on the Lummi Nation’s treaty-protected fishing rights.

The 34-page decision was celebrated by community groups and tribes all over the Northwest that opposed the coal port.

The developer, SSA Marine of Seattle, declared the decision “inconceivable” and political, rather than fact-based. Bob Watters, SSA senior vice president and director of business development, said the company was “considering all action alternatives.”

But legal experts said far from outlandish, the decisionfollowed federal obligation to protect tribal treaty rights and the habitat that makes those reserved rights meaningful.

“This is based on a long line of precedent,” said Robert Anderson, director of the Native American Law Center at the University of Washington School of Law. “You can’t have a right to fish without a decent environment.”

Lummi fishing rights and the associated habitat are property rights protected against interference by states, the federal government and private parties, Anderson noted.

Tim Ballew II, chairman of the Lummi Indian Business Council called the decision “a big win for Lummi and for treaty rights and for Indian Country.” The tribe argued the project was a killer for its crab fishery and would thwart rebuilding the herring run that was once the prize of Puget Sound.

The terminal would have brought some of the largest ships afloat into the usual and accustomed fishing waters of the Lummi up to 487 times a year to load and unload bulk commodities, principally coal, bound for Asian ports.

The project touched a nerve on both sides of the border among communities fighting coal and oil transport projects — none larger than the port proposed for Cherry Point, the last undeveloped bit of shore on a deep-water cove, between a smelter and two oil refineries.

The Lummi fought the project from the start. The tribe was opposed not only to increased vessel traffic and risk of pollution from the project, but any disturbance of the site of one of its oldest and largest villages and burial grounds, upland from the proposed shipping terminal.

Promises by the developer to minimize and scale back the landside footprint of the project did not interest the Lummi, who argued the project could not be mitigated.

While SSA voiced shock at the decision, some industry analysts said it merely put a project that was never going to be economically viable out of its misery.

“This is like cutting the head off a zombie; it stopped making economic sense years ago, and now it’s officially dead,” said Clark Williams-Derry, director of energy finance at the Sightline Institute in Seattle. With coal prices in a long slide and no recovery in sight, the project had no financial future, Williams-Derry said.

“They have no market for the coal,” agreed Tom Sanzillow, based in New York as the director of finance for the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, a nonprofit think tank. Coal-export projects are “wasting a lot of investor capital and people’s time,” he said.

The campaign against the project was hard-fought and its foes implacable. Brian Cladoosby, president of the National Congress of American Indians and chairman of the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community in La Conner, called coal “black death,” and vowed tribes would fight the project to the end.

Cladoosby said Monday, “Today was a victory not only for tribes but for everyone in the Salish Sea. I hope we are reversing a 100-year trend of a pollution-based economy, one victory at a time.”

Tribal opposition to the project from around the region was good news for citizens from Seattle to Bellingham and beyond, noted Cesia Kearns, based in Portland as deputy regional director of the Beyond Coal campaign for the Sierra Club. “Protecting treaty rights also protects everyone who calls the Salish Sea home. I feel just an incredible amount of gratitude,” she said.

Mel Sheldon, chairman of the board of directors for the Tulalip Tribes, which also have treaty-reserved fishing rights at Cherry Point, said the port would have taken away a way of life not only for those who fish, but for tribal and nontribal residents who treasure the environment. “This is a journey we are all on.”

The decision was made by the Seattle District commander, Cmdr. Col. John Buck. If in the future the Lummi withdrew their opposition, SSA Marine can restart the permitting process, the corps noted.

But Ballew made it clear that is not on the table.

“We have always made our treaty rights and protection of the Ancient Ones our first priority,” Ballew said. “And we always will.”




Cities, counties and tribes seek limits on oil and coal shipping

By Chris Winters, The Herald


EVERETT — Oil train explosions might grab headlines, but there are a number of other issues surrounding the shipment of fossil fuels that are bringing a diverse group of local leaders together.

SELA, the Safe Energy Leadership Alliance, is providing a forum for local leaders to work together to protect their communities from the negative effects of rising shipments of oil and coal.

More than 150 public officials are listed as members, including mayors and city council members from many Pacific Northwest cities that lie on major rail lines, such as Edmonds, Mukilteo, Everett and Marysville.

SELA’s latest meeting, the sixth since the group was established, included several tribal leaders, uniting native and non-native leaders around a common interest.

“I think this is one of the first initiatives that brings us all together,” said Tulalip Tribes Chairman Mel Sheldon Jr., who attended the Feb. 4 meeting at Everett Community College.

King County Executive Dow Constantine organized SELA a year and a half ago, and the group’s influence now extends into Oregon, Idaho, Montana and British Columbia.

A regional organization is needed to counter the power that international oil, coal and railroad companies have, he said.

“Local elected officials acting individually won’t be able to have an impact on the global or national issues,” Constantine said.

And yet, local communities bear the effects of those same industries, whether it’s the risk of oil spills or fires, coal dust blowing out of passing hoppers, or even traffic jams in cities such a Marysville with a high number of at-grade crossings.

For Tim Ballew, chairman of the Lummi Nation, the issue hit home when SSA Marine applied to build the new Gateway Pacific coal terminal at Cherry Point, close to the Lummi Reservation.

The Lummi were joined by several other tribes, including Tulalip and the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community, in opposing the project.

Ballew told the SELA attendees that effects of increased shipping on native fishing grounds as well as the development of the terminal in an area of spiritual and archaeological significance present a challenge to the tribe’s treaty rights.

“At the heart of the issue, with all of these negative impacts that will come to our community and compromise the integrity of the place we live in, the benefits won’t really go to the people,” Ballew said.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is expected to issue a ruling soon on the project’s permit.

Keeping the focus on a single issue has allowed SELA to transcend partisan boundaries, too, Constantine said.

Tribes seek to protect their treaty rights, cities fear derailments and traffic blockages, and rural communities find that fossil fuels are taking up more rail capacity and squeezing out agricultural products.

One 2012 study by the Western Organization of Resource Councils predicted that rail traffic of wheat, corn and soybeans will have to compete with coal and oil for space on trains, resulting in longer delays in getting to market. There were 38.3 million tons of agricultural products shipped to Asia through Pacific Northwest terminals in 2010.

“Farming and ranching and orchards are tough enough businesses without piling on the added burden of getting goods to market,” Constantine said.

David Browneagle, vice chairman of the Spokane Tribe of Indians, pointed out that pollution ultimately doesn’t discriminate who it affects.

“Coal dust will go into all our lungs together,” Browneagle said. “It’s not going to come off the train and say ‘Hmm, that’s an Indian, so I’ll go in him.’ ”

He added his great-great grandfather tried and failed to prevent the railroads from arriving in Indian Country, but that it’s a good thing that this group was doing something now to push back.

Megan Smith, director of Climate and Energy Initiatives in Constantine’s office, has been tracking progress and the public comment windows of new terminal projects in the northwest, as well as coordinating those comments from a large number of local officials.

So far, SELA members have sponsored successful legislation in Olympia, in the form of tougher safety regulations on oil trainsas well as in Oregon, which has enacted a similar law, Smith said.

The work won’t stop at Cherry Point or with a few state laws. Another proposal, the Tesoro Savage oil terminal in Vancouver, Washington, will enter the environmental review stage possibly by the end of the year, said Beth Doglio, the campaign director of the environmental nonprofit Climate Solutions.

Tesoro Savage could become the largest terminal on the West Coast, Doglio said. The oil and coal boom is fueling interest in other projects all over the country.

“We are definitely a movement together that has been very strong, very clear in the message that this is not what we want in the state of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, and North Dakota,” Doglio said.

Tulalip Chairman Sheldon said SELA is helping different groups learn to work together and trust each other. That may lead to identifying other common interests.

“When you get leaders coming together with good issues, issues that bond us together, that to me really is the formula for success,” he said.

Eight Tribes to Protest Coal Terminals During D.C. Conference

Courtesy Gateway Pacific TerminalMap of the proposed project at Cherry Point in Washington, close to Lummi Nation sacred sites.
Courtesy Gateway Pacific Terminal
Map of the proposed project at Cherry Point in Washington, close to Lummi Nation sacred sites.

Leaders and members of the Lummi Nation and other Washington State tribes opposed to coal terminals in the Pacific Northwest are bringing their concerns to the other Washington, the U.S. capital, on Thursday November 5.

Eight tribes in total will call on Congress to honor treaties that safeguard both the environment and tribal members’ ability to fish and conduct other cultural and sustenance activities that would be compromised by proposed industrial development. They plan to speak on the issue at the Ronald Reagan Building courtyard during the White House Tribal Nations Summit, to be held

“Tribal treaty rights are being threatened by corporate interests and congressional interference,” said the tribes in a media release announcing the event. “As Lummi Nation fights to protect its fishing areas from North America’s largest coal terminal, other tribes have faced their own development pressures and stand united with Lummi against the terminal and the erosion of treaty rights.”

The Lummi have vociferously opposed the projects and have asked the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to review and reject the proposal for a coal rail terminal at Cherry Point, the ancestral village site of Xwe’chi’eXen.

RELATED: Lummi Nation Asks Army Corps to Deny Permit for Coal Export Terminal

The statement is signed by Lummi Nation Chair Tim Ballew II; Swinomish Indian Tribal Community Chair Brian Cladoosby (also president of the National Congress of American Indians, a post to which he was recently reelected); Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe Chair Frances Charles; Tulalip Nation Chair Melvin Sheldon Jr.; Yakima Nation Chair JoDe Goudy; Hoopa Valley Tribe Chair Ryan Jackson; Spokane Tribe Chair David Brown Eagle, and Quinault Tribe Vice President Tyson Johnston.

RELATED: Lummi Chairman: We Will Fight Coal Terminal ‘By All Means Necessary’

“Senator Steve Daines (R-MT) has led efforts in Congress to prevent the U.S. Army Corps from reviewing the impact of the terminal on the Lummi Nation’s treaty fishing rights—a central tenet of its trust responsibility,” the leaders said in the statement. “If successful, it could set a dangerous precedent for other projects in Indian country.”



“Is this the world that we want to leave to our children?”

James Jewell, Master Carver of the Lummi Nation’s House of Tears Carvers.Photo/Niki Cleary, Tulalip News
James Jewell, Master Carver of the Lummi Nation’s House of Tears Carvers.
Photo/Niki Cleary, Tulalip News


by Kim Kalliber, Tulalip News


“Is this the world that we want to leave to our children?”

That is the question posed by Jewell James, Master Carver of the Lummi Nation’s House of Tears Carvers, of the numerous coal port projects around the northwest and beyond.

“We know the answer,” continued James. “We want our children to have healthy air, water and land.”

For the third year in a row, Lummi carvers have hand-carved a totem pole that will journey hundreds of miles, raising public awareness and opposition to the exporting of fossil fuels. And the timing couldn’t be more important, as the Army Corps of Engineers may be deciding by the end of this month whether or not it will agree with the Lummi Nation and deny permits for the Gateway Pacific Terminal Project at Cherry Point.  Lummi Nation, in fighting to block the terminal, cited its rights under a treaty with the United States to fish in its usual and accustomed areas, which include the waters around Cherry Point.

This year’s journey, aptly named ‘Our Shared Responsibilities’ began August 21 in Bellingham, the location of the proposed Cherry Point terminal. The pole then traveled through British Columbia, Tulalip, Portland, and Celilo Falls on the Washington/Oregon border, and then on to Yakama, in opposition with the Yakama Nation of the Port of Morrow export project. The journey continues to Spokane, where the Spokane and Blackfeet tribe will unite in their opposition to accelerated hydrological fracking and oil leasing in the northern range of the Rocky Mountains. The journey’s final destination, scheduled for August 28, will be Lame Deer, Montana, to support the Northern Cheyenne, whose sacred lands would be devastated by a proposed coalmine.


Lump carvers hand-carved this totem pole to raise public awareness and opposition to the exporting of fossil fuels. Photo/Kim Kalliber
Lump carvers hand-carved this totem pole to raise public awareness and opposition to the exporting of fossil fuels.
Photo/Kim Kalliber


“The totem pole design includes an eagle, a buffalo, two badgers, two drummers with a buffalo skull and drum, and a turtle with a lizard on each side. These are symbols of their culture,” explains James.  “These people want everyone to know that they love the earth, they love their mother, and they want us to help them protect our part of the earth. “

On August 23, the Tulalip Tribes welcomed the totem pole and guests with songs and blessings. Tribal Chairman Mel Sheldon opened the ceremony and tribal member Caroline Moses led a blessing song for the totem pole.


Tulalip tribal member Caroline Moses blesses the totem pole. Photo/Kim Kalliber
Tulalip tribal member Carolyn Moses blesses the totem pole.
Photo/Kim Kalliber


“The salmon are already dying in the river because of the high temperature. The spawning grounds are poisoned.  They [coal companies] have yet to feel the repercussions of that. They are walking away with their hands slapped. These ports, Cherry Point, Port of Morrow, we’re talking about 153 million tons [of coal] annually coming into the Pacific Northwest, loaded with arsenic and mercury,” said James to the group of tribal and community members gathered at the shores of Tulalip Bay. “We’re saying no; we’re united. We’re happy to be at Tulalip because Tulalip is a leader tribe.”

James went on to speak about the united effort to defeat these fossil fuel export projects, saying that, “nobody hears us, because the media doesn’t come to Northern Cheyenne.” The totem pole journey plays an important role in bringing people together, creating new alliances, and empowering the public with information about fossil fuels and the damage they are causing the environment.


Jewell James and Tulalip Tribal Chairman Mel Sheldon Photo/Niki Cleary, Tulalip News
Jewell James and Tulalip Tribal Chairman Mel Sheldon
Photo/Niki Cleary, Tulalip News


“Pope Francis came out with a statement last year that they were wrong and they should have taught the people how to love the earth, not destroy it.  They made a mistake. What we need to do as tribal people is to make sure that they live up to the words they put out publicly.  We’re calling on everybody to join together. We need to get together because the Earth’s dying. July was the hottest recorded July in recorded history. The Earth is burning. Global warming is a reality and they’re syphoning our rivers dry. Our salmon, our fish, and everything else that depend upon it is dying around us.

“We say it simply, love the Earth. That’s the message that we’re bringing to Northern Cheyenne in unison with us.”



The medical marijuana business could save Native American reservations

AP Photo/David Zalubowski


By Jacqueline Keeler, Quartz


At the very first Tribal Marijuana Conference held last weekend in Tulalip, WA, the former chairman of the Moapa Paiute tribe, William Anderson, tall and dignified and walking with a cane, explained to me what brought him: “I was just laying in bed in pain. I couldn’t get up, I couldn’t get up to go to the bathroom or go to the kitchen because I was in so much pain.”

An infection in his foot had spread to his spine and deteriorated the bone, exposing nerves. Doctors replaced the bone with titanium steel. For two years, the infection, even with prescription creams and antibiotics, kept coming back. The Indian Health Service recommended amputation of his foot.

“I just prayed to the Great Creator, ‘Please, help me with my pain. Please, help me get up so I can function as a normal human being.’”

Then he remembered a documentary he had seen years earlier about medical marijuana, and how it was used by cancer patients for pain relief. He ordered a topical cannabis ointment, and when he applied it he felt immediate relief.

The conference brought together some 75 tribal representatives, along with hundreds from the state and federal level in addition to cannabis industry leaders on the Tulalip tribe’s $200 million resort and casino in Washington state. This was in response to a Department of Justice memo directing US attorneys nationwide not to prosecute federally-recognized tribes conducting marijuana-related businesses on reservation land—so long as they meet nine criteria, including the prevention of criminal elements from profiting from marijuana sales, and keeping cannabis products away from minors.

While most of the presentations at the conference addressed the legal, infrastructural, and financial concerns of running a marijuana business on the reservation, Anderson’s story highlights the incredible medical needs faced by many tribal members.

Native Americans have the highest rates of high-risk drinking and suicide of any American ethnic group, according to research from the NIH and CDC, respectively. In the past two decades, opioid deaths and cancer rates have continued to climb. On Anderson’s reservation, tribal members’ health had been harmed by a coal power plant that blew coal ash through their community; its waste ponds poisoning their ground water. They fought back and shut down the plant, but this story is all too common throughout “Indian Country;” Native American communities pay a heavy price, both in regards to environmental and public health, for US energy development.

Amanda Reiman, manager of marijuana law and policy at the Drug Policy Alliance, assured tribal leaders at the conference that cannabis could actually help Native American communities battling addiction. A recent study (paywall) found that marijuana acts not as a “gateway drug,” as it is often characterized, but as a less harmful replacement for alcohol. In states that have legalized medical marijuana, the researchers found that the number of alcohol-related traffic fatalities per year decreased by as much as 11%. It is estimated that, in the United States, alcohol-related deaths total 88,000 per year. The statistics are even more dire for Native American communities: nearly 11.7% of Native American deaths are alcohol-related, compared to 3.3% for all Americans.

Another study published just last year in JAMA Internal Medicine found that opioid mortality rates were lower by 25% in states that had legalized medical marijuana. Native Americans have seen opioid-related (prescription painkiller) deaths increase since 2000 to a rate that is 3 times that of African-Americans and Hispanics, according to the CDC. Nationally, these drugs now kill more people than car crashes.

As the medical establishment has reigned in opioid over-prescription, patients who had become addicted to painkillers have increasingly turned to heroin—once associated with big cities, but now a booming trade in poorer, rural areas. Last week, the Saginaw Chippewa tribe in Michigan banished two tribal members for trafficking in heroin. On Feb. 20, a couple from the Lummi tribe in Washington state were sentenced to prison for conspiracy to distribute heroin and methamphetamine.

“Heroin and methamphetamine trafficking has no place in any of our communities, least of all on tribal lands,” said acting US attorney for the Western district of Washington, Annette L. Hayes. “Last week I convened a heroin summit to focus community resources on battling what has become a growing epidemic of opioid abuse. I commend the work of our tribal partners, the Lummi, to lead in the effort to prevent heroin use and overdose deaths.”

Meanwhile, yet another study made headlines after finding marijuana to be 114 times less deadly than alcohol. Alcohol, followed by heroin and cocaine, was found to be the most dangerous recreational drug. Tobacco came in fourth, and cannabis a distant last.

With all the research and evidence regarding the safety and innocuousness of marijuana piling up, it is no wonder that the federal government has taken baby steps to revise its once harsh prohibition of the drug. For example, a US district judge in Sacramento, CA, heard the final arguments on Feb. 11 on a hearing regarding the constitutionality of the 1970 Controlled Substances Act that classified marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug. This is the first reconsideration of the act’s claims that marijuana has “no accepted medical use”—a rather foolish assertion considering that that 23 states and the District of Columbia now permit the distribution and consumption of medical marijuana. She is expected to rule within the next week.

Still, many Native Americans, long used to fighting addiction in their communities, see the opportunity for the sale of marijuana on their lands as yet another Trojan horse delivered by the US government. They worry about its implementation.

Troy Eid, chair of president Obama’s Indian Law and Order Commission was cautious. “I think it is very good for tribes to look at and think about how they might want to influence changes in the federal law,” he said. “Having said that, there are no changes in federal law here. I can tell you as a former US attorney, the nine different criteria that they laid out are not sufficient to provide protections to tribes or tribal members, tribal citizens. So, you are really rolling the dice.”

For Native American communities, the issue of marijuana legalization represents both unique challenges and prospects for success. It hinges on careful negotiation with multiple federal agencies, from the DEA to the IRS. The unique relationship federally-recognized tribes have with the US as “domestic dependent nations”—a designation that recognizes both the inherent sovereignty of pre-existing indigenous nations, but also reflects the power of the US to limit the exercise of that sovereignty—is a careful dance that tribes have had to conduct with the most powerful nation in the world for decades; and this new opportunity may serve as a long-awaited chance to restructure that relationship, just as casino-gaming did a generation ago.

“This issue was a historic moment for the United States,” Robert Odawi Porter of Odawi Law PLLC, a former president of the Seneca Nation of New York, and one of the organizers of the conference explained to me, “and what the Justice Department did was to invite ‘Indian Country’ to have a historical moment. No different than any other major decision our ancestors have had to make. Tribal leaders are now going to have the same opportunity to think through whether legalizing marijuana was a good thing.”

The conference ended with tribal leaders agreeing to meet again in Las Vegas on Mar. 12 at the Reservation Economic Summit to vote on a charter for a new inter-tribal cannabis trade organization.

Douglas Berman, a presenter at the conference, and a professor of law at Ohio State University, noted, “There are relatively few industries with so many novel dimensions to it that haven’t already gotten commercialized to the point it is difficult for new players to enter.”

“I think tribes can be first to market here. I really do,” said Hilary Bricken, a cannabis attorney in Washington state, and another of the organizers of the conference. She urged tribes to consider entering the marijuana banking services industry. Although Bank of America has agreed to handle Washington state’s marijuana tax income, only small credit unions have taken on lending to legal, licensed marijuana businesses. A few tribes have gotten involved as payday lenders, but full realization of reservations as “off-shore banking” magnates on the mainland US has not yet occurred. A niche banking services market like marijuana could provide the impetus.

Les Parks, vice chairman of the Tulalip tribe’s board of directors, shared a video of a local Seattle television-news report on the medical marijuana extract CBD, which is used to relieve epileptic seizures and hold big dreams for tribes in the pharmaceutical industry. “We can lead this country in CBD drug development and be the next big pharmaceutical company,” he said.

A number of Native Americans came with cannabis company partners to the conference. William Anderson was one of them. He is working with Strainz, a medical cannabis products and services company.

“This cannot just be about making a quick buck, but about economic development and being more independent, not dependent on the government, which I don’t like but is unfortunately the reality for our people,” Anderson explained.

As a former tribal chairman, he’s had experience doing just that. Under his leadership, his tribe not only got rid of the coal plant, but opened the first solar plant on any reservation in the country, and has since been approved to build a second.

But in the end Anderson is a believer in the power of medical marijuana to help Native American people deal with chronic pain. “I’m really grateful to be here today, to just talk and to shake hands with people,” he said. “This is what I want to bring to Indian people out there. To show that there are other ways to get help.”

You can follow Jacqueline on Twitter at @jfkeeler. We welcome your comments at

The Case Against Coal Terminals: Lummi Cite Health, Environmental Factors

NOAAPacific International Terminals proposes building an export terminal for the export of coal and other commodities, on Cherry Point near the Lummi Nation reservation. The site is approximately midway between the BP oil refinery -- its docks are in the foreground -- and the Alcoa Intalco Works aluminum smelter. Opponents fear the further industrialization of this area will harm an ecosystem that is struggling to survive.
Pacific International Terminals proposes building an export terminal for the export of coal and other commodities, on Cherry Point near the Lummi Nation reservation. The site is approximately midway between the BP oil refinery — its docks are in the foreground — and the Alcoa Intalco Works aluminum smelter. Opponents fear the further industrialization of this area will harm an ecosystem that is struggling to survive.


Richard Walker, Indian Country Today


Coal trains are not the only threats to sacred sites and traditional hunting and fishing territory.First Nations in the U.S. and Canada that share the Salish Sea contend that increased ballast water discharges associated with the Gateway Pacific Terminal would introduce invasive species to the local marine environment; that increased rail and vessel activity would increase the risk of coal and oil spills, and that coal dust from the railway and terminal would affect the health of marine waters and nearby communities. But the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal is only one of the projects that would bring increased rail and shipping activity to the Salish Sea. Also proposed: Expansion of the Kinder Morgan pipeline to Vancouver, B.C., and expansion of a coal, grain and container terminal at Delta, B.C.

RELATED: Lummi Call Coal Terminals an Absolute No-Go, Invoking Treaty Rights

The Salish Sea is currently transited by an estimated 10,000 cargo ships and tankers en route to and from oil refineries and shipping ports. The George Washington University and Virginia Commonwealth University studied the potential risk for a large oil spill from increase in shipping and “an ever-changing vessel traffic mix” of cargo ships and tankers that would result from the three projects. The 2014 vessel traffic risk assessment was commissioned by the Puget Sound Partnership, a state agency charged with coordinating efforts to improve the health of Puget Sound by 2020.

“Even though this area has not experienced major oil spills in the past 20 years or so, the presence of tankers in an ever changing vessel traffic mix places the area at risk for large oil spills,” the study states. “While a previous GW/VCU analysis of this area demonstrated significant risk reduction of oil transportation risk due to existing risk mitigation measures, potential for large oil spills continues to be a prominent public concern heightened by proposed maritime terminal developments.”

Concerns about coal dust and coal spills are bolstered by recent incidents in other communities.

“On more than one occasion, coal dust from the Brayton Point [power-generating] station has covered the nearby neighborhoods of Somerset, Massachusetts,” the Center for Media and Democracyreports. “On October 29, 2008, coal dust covered nearby Ripley Street, where residents reported having coal dust in their homes despite the windows being closed.”

Oregon Public Broadcasting’s Ashley Ahearn reports that in 2009, a representative of BNSF Railway Company testified before a federal review board that 645 pounds of dust escapes from each coal train car during a 400-mile trip.

“Since the 2009 testimony, coal companies have been required to apply what’s called surfactant or topper agent to the trains before they leave the mines,” Ahearn reported in March 2013. “BNSF researchhas shown that the surfactants reduce the coal dust by about 85 percent. That should bring the 645-pound figure down to about 100 pounds of coal dust escaping per car. There are usually about 125 cars per coal train.”

But coal in transit can harm health and the environment in other ways. In December 2012, a ship crashed into a conveyor belt at Westshore Terminals in Vancouver, British Columbia, spilling 30 metric tons of coal into the sea. In January 2014, a 152-car coal train derailed in Burnaby, British Columbia; three cars spilled their loads, one of them into a protected waterway.

Concerns about rail accidents in Washington state are shared by rail workers themselves. Members of the Sheet Metal Air Rail and Transportation Workers (SMART), have proposed new rules for hazardous material trains in response to the recent explosions of oil trains in Canada and North Dakota. House Bill 1809 and Senate Bill 5679 would require trains carrying hazardous materials to have one or two additional staff on board. Previously, Washington state mandated six-person crews. Today, some trains operate with only one or two people, according to SMART.

“Our workers know how to run these trains safely, but the railroad refuses to provide adequate staffing, exposing the public and rail workers to death and injury,” said SMART legislative director Herb Krohn, a conductor and switchman on Washington’s rails, in announcing the bills.

The measures have bipartisan support. HB 1809 is sponsored by 34 representatives and has been approved by the House Committee on Labor. Companion bill SB 5679, sponsored by 24 senators, is before the Senate Committee on Commerce & Labor.

“Our bill simply restores Washington state’s common-sense safety standards,” Krohn said. “We looked at what went wrong in each of the catastrophic explosions and the close calls, and it’s clear that one or two people simply can’t monitor and safely operate these dangerous cargos.  Adding even one more person to a train, particularly at the back of the train, will save lives.”



Home Safe Home: Permanent Housing Is Key to Helping Domestic Violence Survivors



Lynn Armitage, Indian Country Today 

When Irene Moses was 13, she fell into a relationship with a 24-year-old man and ran away from her foster home to be with him. At 14, she became pregnant with his child, and that’s when all the abuse began.

“He beat me, threw me down and threatened to kill me,” the Lummi Native recalled the terror. As is typical with many domestic violence victims, Moses stayed with her abuser for another eight years, even marrying him. During that nightmarish time, she said he caused a miscarriage, kidnapped her and their one-week-old daughter (their second child) and beat them both, and tried to sell Moses into sexual slavery.


Irene Moses: "I never lost hope in providing for my children."
Irene Moses: “I never lost hope in providing for my children.”


Despite all the violence waged against her and her children, the young mother always returned to her abuser because she had no other place to go. “There weren’t a lot of women’s shelters at the time that would take a teenager with two children,” and she said staying in an abusive home was preferable to being homeless.

As hard as it is to believe, Moses’ story is far from unusual. “We have known for a long time that lack of financial resources and not having a safe place to live was the No. 1 reason why people who are in an abusive relationship and leave have to eventually return,” said Judy Chen, director of strategic initiatives for the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence (WSCADV), a nonprofit network of more than 70 domestic violence programs in Washington that also includes a number of tribal programs.

WSCADV partnered with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation on Domestic Violence Housing First (DVHF), a pilot program in Washington that helped 681 domestic violence victims and their children over the last three years—including Moses—find permanent, safe housing to rebuild their lives so that they would never have to live with their abusers again out of desperation.

Three tribes were chosen for the pilot project: the Lummi Nation, the Spokane Tribe of Indians and the Kalispel Tribe of Indians. “We have a great number of tribes in the state and are very aware of domestic violence on reservations,” said Chen, stating that 35 percent of the program participants were Native women. “Finding solutions that are rooted in Native communities is very important to us.”

Chen said the DVHF program was based on a tried-and-true model that has already worked successfully in the low-income housing and homeless field. “The philosophy is that housing is a human right and the problems in people’s lives that may have led to homelessness, such as losing a job or medical issues, are best dealt with when somebody is housed and they don’t have to worry day to day about where they are going to live.”

The four pillars of the program include:

—Temporary financial help with expenses such as rent, rental deposits, utilities and child care;

—locating housing for survivors and advocating for them with landlords;

—survivor-driven solutions to give victims voice and choice on where they want to live;

—establishing partnerships between advocates and community organizations, such as community colleges and car repair shops, to help get victims back on their feet.



WSCADV recently released its findings of a three-year study on the effectiveness of the DVHF project. According to Chen, the program was a huge success and made a big difference in many peoples’ lives.

“After 18 months, 96 percent of survivors were still in their own housing—even those with very low incomes,” said Chen. The study also reports that 84 percent of participants felt safer after participating in the DVHF program. “Some women said, ‘My kids don’t look out the window in fear anymore. Now they just look out the window to be looking.’”

Bear Hughes, a Spokane tribal council member, said that with the $250,000 his tribe received from the program, they were able to help 35 women (mostly Spokane enrolled Natives) get settled into permanent, safe housing over a period of three years. He said the biggest challenge was trying to find housing on the reservation, as many women felt safer surrounded by their families and a familiar Native community.

“We lack housing on the rez for victims. It’s something we are working on as a government. Maybe in about six more months to a year, we will have a domestic violence shelter here,” Hughes said hopefully.

Lummi Victims of Crime (LVOC), the first Native American domestic violence shelter in Washington, also received a generous $250,000 grant from the DVHF program. “Over the past three years, we were able to help 134 women move out of our shelter and transitional housing and into their own homes. Of those, only five have lost their homes. The rest still have them,” said Nikki Finkbonner, an LVOC coordinator. “I wish it was still going on, as there are so many other people we could have helped.”

Returning to Moses … she is one of the LVOC success stories. Now at 32, this woman who was abused for so much of her childhood is a happily married mother of six (two are step-children). She is safe in her own four-bedroom home in Bellingham, Washington, free from the fear of homelessness that had trapped her in an abusive relationship with a man who she now realizes was a sexual predator all along.

“I was turned down many times for housing because landlords thought I was a high risk. But I never lost hope in providing for my children,” said the very resilient Lummi Native. “Through the program, I also got me GED, took parenting classes, my kids went to school every day and I’m working on my degree in marine biology. I couldn’t have done any of this without DVHF.”

Contributing writer Lynn Armitage is an enrolled member of the Oneida Tribes of Indians of Wisconsin.



Tribal Leaders to Discuss Formation of Tribal Cannabis Association

Indian Country Today


The first national Tribal Marijuana Conference will take place in nine days at the Tulalip Resort Casino in Quil Ceda Village, Washington and with interested parties already in attendance, Henry Cagey has announced a meeting to discuss forming a Tribal Cannabis Association to be held February 28.

Cagey, the former chair of the Lummi Nation and current council member, looks to take advantage of tribal leaders, executives, entrepreneurs, and Native health and social work professionals, and law enforcement personnel in attendance on February 27 to explore how tribes could work together to address marijuana development in their sovereign tribal territories.

Cagey’s meeting will be held in the same location as the Conference.

Medical marijuana is currently legalized in 23 states, is legal for persons over the age of 21 in four states, and legalized for recreational use in Washington and Colorado. The United States Department of Justice in October 2014 issued a “Policy Statement Regarding Marijuana Issues in Indian Country.” Within the statement, the DOJ addressed law enforcement concerns by stating it will continue its enforcement priorities “in the event that sovereign Indian Nations seek to legalize the cultivation or use of marijuana in Indian country.”

RELATED: Groundbreaking Conference to Discuss Legalizing Marijuana in Indian Country

“I believe that the development of marijuana businesses in Indian country raises important issues that tribal leaders need to discuss,” Cagey said in a press release announcing the meeting.

Recently, reports surfaced that at least 100 tribes were exploring their options of growing medical marijuana with the Pinoleville Pomo Nation in California set to be the first tribe to begin cultivation according to an ICTMN story.

RELATED: Proceed With Caution: A Warning to Tribes Wanting to Grow Medical Marijuana

“We’ve been contacted by more than 100 tribes from coast to coast that want to get into the business in one way or another,” Barry Brautman, president of FoxBarry Companies, a group of Kansas-based operations that specialize in developing Native business enterprises, said.

The Conference and Cagey’s meeting appear to be arriving at just the right time for the surge in interest of a new economic train throughout Indian country.

RELATED: La Push Kush, Lummi Yummy, Apache Gold? When the Rez Smoke Shop Goes to Pot

“There exists enormous new market potential for commercial marijuana initiatives on Native lands,” Hilary Bricken, one of the foremost legal experts and premier cannabis business attorneys in the country, said when the Conference was announced. “This is an unparalleled opportunity for tribes to participate in a growing sector of commerce and diversify their economies, yet there is much to be considered to ensure successful implementation of tribal policy and law.”

“Given recent developments, we are excited to announce this historic opportunity for tribal leaders to gain a better understanding of the implications of marijuana legalization in their territories,” Robert Odawi Porter, Conference co-sponsor and organizer, a leading attorney in tribal sovereignty and treaty rights protections and former president of the Seneca Indian Nation, said. “We are bringing together some of the best, most experienced lawyers and commentators at the intersection of Indian law and marijuana law to share their experience in addressing the evolving issues surrounding recreational and medicinal marijuana usage in Indian country. Our goal is to pursue a balanced discussion of the important legal, business, social, and cultural questions that would inevitably affect Native societies were legalization to occur.”

Throughout the organization of the meeting, Cagey focused on certain topics that should be discussed, such as: setting policy on medicinal or recreational usage, the need to develop model tribal regulatory laws, defining protocols for tribal self-regulation and oversight, and establishing formal consultation with federal and state officials to support tribal sovereignty.

“The promise of substantial revenues that are coming from this will lure some tribes into it blindly,” Walter Lamar, president of Lamar Associates, a Native-owned consulting and professional services company, recently told ICTMN.

RELATED: Marijuana Legalization Must Remain Public Policy Debate

The meeting will be open to tribal government officials and representatives, tribal citizens and tribal attorneys at no charge, though registration is required to attend.

“Whether one supports legalization efforts or opposes them, there is much research and legal development that must be done. Tribes should work together whenever possible to protect our sovereignty and help our Native people,” Cagey said.

For more information on the Tribal Cannabis Association and to pre-register, contact: Megan Nord at megan@harrismoure.comor by phone at (206) 224-5657. Registration to attend this meeting ends on February 27, at 8 p.m.



Dairy Farm Pollution Costs Lummi Nation

An aerial photo shows a manure lagoon at a dairy farm adjacent to the Nooksack River. Courtesy of Kim Koon.
An aerial photo shows a manure lagoon at a dairy farm adjacent to the Nooksack River. Courtesy of Kim Koon.

By Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission 


Whatcom County’s booming dairy and agricultural industry has cost Lummi Nation shellfish harvesters millions of dollars already, and a recent closure of shellfish beds in Portage Bay is adding to the tally.

Manure from dairy cows is discharged either directly or indirectly into the Nooksack River, which flows into Portage Bay. In September, the tribe closed 335 acres of Portage Bay shellfish beds to harvest because of high fecal coliform levels that exceeded National Shellfish Sanitation Program standards. Continued poor water quality led to the closure of two additional areas in December, bringing the total to nearly 500 acres of shellfish beds that are unsafe to harvest. More areas may have to be closed in the coming months if conditions are not improved.

Lummi shellfish harvesters lost an estimated $8 million in revenue from 1996 to 2006, when 180 acres of Portage Bay shellfish beds were closed for the same reason. The Lummi Nation is pressing state and federal agencies to do a better job of keeping dairy farm manure out of the Nooksack River.

“The tribe has been working since 2005 to avoid this very situation from occurring,” said Merle Jefferson, Lummi Natural Resources director. “We do not have jurisdiction to enforce county, state and federal laws in the watershed so we must rely on Whatcom County, the Washington Department of Ecology, the Washington Department of Agriculture and the EPA to act. The federal agencies have a trust responsibility to ensure that the Lummi people can exercise their treaty rights to harvest shellfish in our usual and accustomed areas.”

Whatcom County is home to about 46,500 adult dairy cows, which can each generate 120 pounds of manure per day. Dairies store the waste in unlined lagoons that can leak 900 gallons of manure into the ground every day, according to a recent ruling under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.

Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) – defined as industrial-sized livestock operations that confine animals to barns or feed lots – are required by the federal Clean Water Act to have National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits that regulate how much waste they release into the water.

However, none of the dairy farms in Whatcom County have an NPDES permit.

Smaller farms don’t meet the definition of a CAFO unless they have a documented discharge. Most claim not to spill manure into the water supply, said Andrea Rodgers Harris, a lawyer with the Western Environmental Law Center. Nevertheless, manure is being discharged into the Nooksack River and the groundwater. The Sumas-Blaine aquifer in Whatcom County is the most contaminated aquifer in the state.

“Ecology has concluded that the high nitrate pollution in the aquifer is largely due to manure pollution from dairy farms,” Harris said.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is working with the state Department of Ecology, which administers the permits, to enforce the Clean Water Act to “the fullest extent possible using available resources,” said Dennis McLerran, EPA Region 10 administrator, in a Dec. 9 letter to the Lummi Nation.

McLerran said that a farm that contributes significantly to pollution, even if it does not meet the definition of a “Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation,” can be required to get an NPDES permit. Animal feeding operations that are not significant polluters are covered under Clean Water Act provisions relating to nonpoint sources.

“We will continue to work with Ecology to take appropriate enforcement actions to bring such facilities into compliance with the NPDES general permit,” McLerran added.

The state is considering legislation, drafted at the direction of Gov. Inslee, to require all applicators of manure to be certified and licensed by the state

Another concern is pollution from Canadian dairy farms in British Columbia. A Vancouver Sun investigation learned that extremely high levels of fecal coliform bacteria are traveling across the border into Whatcom County via streams from the Fraser Valley.

In December, McLerran and EPA Deputy Regional Administrator Michelle Pirzadeh met with their counterparts in Canada to discuss updating a statement of cooperation between EPA and Environment Canada.

“During our meeting I stated the high priority EPA places on recovery of shellfish beds in Puget Sound, and specifically identified water quality problems and shellfish bed closures near the border as one of EPA Region 10’s highest priorities for our agencies to focus on in the coming year,” McLerran said.

In addition to working with EPA and Ecology, the Lummi Nation participates in the Whatcom Clean Water Program and the Whatcom County Portage Bay Shellfish Protection District, and is working to raise awareness about waste management practices.

Lummi also is seeking relief for fishermen affected by the closure. About 200 Lummi families make their living harvesting shellfish, and as many as 5,000 community members rely on the shellfish beds for ceremonial and subsistence purposes.


Honoring Nations Announces 2014 Awards in American Indian Tribal Governance


Swinomish stands with Harvard representatives for a group photo after being awarded at the 2014 NCAI Conference in Atlanta, GA. Photo courtesy Brian Cladoosby. #SalishSeaOilFree
Swinomish stands with Harvard representatives for a group photo after being awarded at the 2014 NCAI Conference in Atlanta, GA. Photo courtesy Brian Cladoosby. #SalishSeaOilFree



CAMBRIDGE, MASS, OCT 29 – From more than 60 applicants, six tribal governance programs have been selected as 2014 Awardees by the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development’s Honoring Nations program. The Honoring Nations awards identify, celebrate, and share excellence in American Indian tribal governance. At the heart of Honoring Nations is the principle that tribes themselves hold the key to generating social, political, cultural, and economic prosperity and that self-governance plays a crucial role in building and sustaining strong, healthy Indian nations.

Calling them trailblazers, Chairman of the Honoring Nations Board of Governors Chief Oren Lyons (Onondaga) says, “the 2014 Honoring Nations awardees look down the long road and don’t get lost in the demands of the moment. They are about our future, and the children coming, and the responsibilities of all leaders to their nations.”

Administered by the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development at Harvard Kennedy School, Honoring Nations is a member of a worldwide family of “governmental best practices” awards programs that share a commitment to the core idea that government can be improved through the identification and dissemination of examples of effective solutions to common governmental concerns. At each stage of the selection process, applications are evaluated on the criteria of effectiveness, significance to sovereignty, cultural relevance, transferability, and sustainability. Since its inception in 1998, 118 tribal government programs and three All-Stars programs have been recognized from more than 80 tribal nations.

Honoring Nation’s Program Director Megan Minoka Hill (Oneida Nation WI) states, “Honoring Nations shines a light on success in Indian Country to share valuable lessons that all local governments, Native and non-Native, can learn from to better serve their citizens.”

Presentations and dissemination of the work of the 2014 awardees will include exhibits at the Smithsonian Institution, a web platform through Google Cultural Institutes, written and video reports and case studies, executive education curriculum, and national presentations.

The 2014 Honoring Nations awardees are:

  • The Lummi Nation’s Wetland and Habitat Mitigation Bank: A bank of tribal wetlands habitat set aside and preserved to sell as “credits” to offset the impact of on- and off-reservation development projects that impact wetlands habitat.
  • Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe’s Child Welfare Program: Tribal child welfare services provider that administers Social Security Act programs to provide culturally reflective programs and services and keeps S’Klallam children in S’Klallam homes.
  • Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo’s Owe’neh Bupingeh Rehabilitation Project: A complex project to rehabilitate and restore homes in the “Pueblo core” of the community, preserving the core’s 700+ year-old structures while modernizing homes for 29 families.
  • The Citizen Potawatomi Nation’s Potawatomi Leadership Program: A six-week summer internship program for college-student Potawatomi citizens to work in the tribal government offices and gain a more thorough knowledge of tribal organization, thereby increasing their capacity as future tribal leaders.
  • The Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community’s Role in the Scott County Association for Leadership and Efficiency (SCALE): A local collaborative association of tribal and municipal governments to increase efficiency and cooperation among agencies and governments in Scott County, Minnesota.
  • The Swinomish Indian Tribal Community’s Climate Change Initiative: A thorough initiative that incorporates assessment of current and forecast climate change impacts on the tribal community and resources, and a plan with tools for establishing mitigation strategies.