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Indigenous Cultural Survival: A Matter of Human Rights

Intercontinental Cry

March 20, 2015

by Jay Taber

The Lummi Indian tribe (Lhaq’temish in Coast Salish language) originally owned much of the San Juan Islands (Washington state) and surrounding waters. They and neighboring tribes in British Columbia shared the Salish Sea, one of the richest marine estuaries in the world. Subsequently confined to a reservation on the mainland, Lummi Nation — which boasts the largest indigenous fishing fleet in the U.S. — has been targeted for destruction by three of America’s largest corporations: Peabody Energy, SSA Marine (SSA), and Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad (BNSF). As Sandy Robson notes in her award-winning expose What Would Corporations Do? Native American Rights and the Gateway Pacific Terminal, these corporations will stop at nothing to get what they want.

In The Line is Drawn, Robson chronicles the conflict between SSA Marine subsidiary Gateway Pacific Terminal (GPT) and Lummi Nation, including close financial ties between GPT and Whatcom Tea Party leaders, who throughout 2012, 2013, and 2014 recruited and promoted Citizens Equal Rights Alliance (CERA) — the “Ku Klux Klan of Indian Country” — on KGMI radio programs. Those ties — exposed by Robson in January 2014 — led to a SLAPP suit threat in February 2014 by GPT PR spokesman Craig Cole.

Most recently, the GPT consortium launched a divide-and-conquer campaign against Lummi Nation, by posing the Crow tribe of Montana as an innocent victim of the conflict, when in reality the Crow tribe is in bed with coal companies. Oddly, no one in mainstream media has questioned why the Crow should have any say about Lummi efforts to protect their economy and sacred sites at Cherry Point. As Winona LaDuke observes, Dirty Coal & Clean Fishing don’t mix. As Lummi Nation tribal council chair Tim Ballew remarked in a link at Robson’s article A Sovereign Nation Stands Tall, “Our treaty rights are not for sale”.

Since paying $1.6 million in penalties and fees for illegally bulldozing a registered Native American archaeological site at Cherry Point in 2011, SSA and its public relations firm (Edelman PR) have tried everything under the sun to defeat Lummi Nation’s resistance to turning their treaty fishing area into a carbon corridor for exporting coal and oil to Asia. Wall Street v. Coast Salish is a battle between Big Coal and Big Oil on one side, the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians, Coast Salish First Nations, and Lummi Nation on the other.

Having funded two Tea Party-led Political Action Committees (PACs) to launder electoral campaign donations from the GPT consortium — that includes Peabody, SSA, and BNSF — GPT PR firms and front groups are now promoting the notion that Lummi Nation is unreasonable in its rejection of what would be the largest coal export facility in North America, in the heart of its treaty-guaranteed fishing area. This “usual and accustomed” fishing area, adjacent to the ancient Lummi village and burial ground at Cherry Point, supports treaty and non-treaty harvests of Dungeness crab, halibut, and salmon. As Ballew stated in a Lummi press release, “We have a sacred obligation to protect this location.”

Expanded export of Alberta Tar Sands bitumen, Bakken Shale crude, and Powder River Basin coal through ports on the Salish Sea would vastly increase the odds of a Superspill in the San Juan and Gulf Islands. Preventing that likely catastrophe has brought environmental organizations, churches and tribes together. As GPT doubles down on promoting interracial discord, the carbon corridor conflict demands that we listen to The Voice Within.

When fossil fuel corporations engage in Capitalizing on Fear to destroy the basis of indigenous cultural survival, it becomes a matter of human rights. Given the deceitful and malicious GPT track record toward Lummi Nation, one has to ask why the Washington State Human Rights Commission has so far taken a pass. In fairness, they might be confused, thanks in no small part to Edelman and Cole.