Students from the Lummi Nation School about to sing their national anthem at Thursdays Warrior Up! proclamation signing.
Students from the Lummi Nation School about to sing their national anthem at Thursday's "Warrior Up!" proclamation signing. SB

If the Gateway Pacific coal export terminal gets built at Cherry Point, a piece of land jutting into the Salish Sea near Bellingham that's home to ancestral grounds of the Lummi Nation, it'll be able to process 54 million tons of bulk goods a year. It'll also wreak havoc on Lummi fishing activity, according to the tribe, though that much is supposed to be protected by treaty rights.

Earlier this year, the Lummi Nation asked the Army Corps of Engineers to intervene, citing major threats to Lummi fishing activity from an environmental impact study. Now, eight more regional tribes are joining the Lummi in asking the Army Corps of Engineers to respect treaty rights and reject the Gateway Pacific Terminal from being built at Cherry Point. The proclamation the leaders signed also agrees to work together to come up with a more "sustainable and responsible approach to meeting our present and future energy needs."

"We come together to say no, do the right thing," Tulalip chairman Melvin Sheldon said at an event on Thursday marking the the new proclamation among tribes. "Tulalip says 'no' to exports. We further say 'hell no' to exports," he added.

Several of the leaders who signed the proclamation—including leaders from the Lummi Nation, Tsleil Waututh in British Columbia, the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community, Yakama Nation, Lower Elwha Tribal Council, Quinault Nation, the Spokane Tribal Council, and the Northern Cheyenne—noted the economic pressure they face from the fossil-fuel industry to pollute their natural resources. Just this week, Canada's Lax Kw’alaams Band unanimously rejected a $1 billion offer from a Malaysian energy company to build a liquid natural gas export facility near the community, Tsleil Waututh Sundance Chief Rueben George noted.

Lummi Nation chairman Tim Ballew holding the nine tribes new commitment.
Lummi Nation chairman Tim Ballew holding the nine tribes' new commitment. Pyramid Communications

But tribal connections to place and ancestral fisheries are invaluable, leaders said—and those same timeless connections, enshrined in treaty rights, end up protecting non-indigenous peoples, too. "Because these people are incapable of making decisions for their future generations, we will," George said.

Two years ago, SSA Marine subsidiary Pacific Gateway Terminals agreed to pay a $1.6 million settlement after ripping up part of Cherry Point in preparation for the terminal. Other documents revealed by reporter Ashley Ahearn showed that the same activity disturbed a site where experts suspect Lummi ancestors are buried.

Otto Braided Hair, of the Northern Cheyenne, spoke of fights his grandfather faced more than a century ago, and how little they've changed over the years. "Before, it was the US government and the military," he said. "Today it's the US government and big corporations."