Lummi Nation leaders come out against Gateway Pacific coal terminal project

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDSeptember 21, 2012 

Leaders of the Lummi Nation made it clear they are opposing the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal project and that it's time to work together to protect the natural and cultural heritage of the Cherry Point area.

On Friday, Sept. 21, Lummi leaders organized a ceremony on a beach near the site of the proposed project. Along with prayers, story-telling, songs and speeches, a large mock check was ceremoniously placed over a fire, making the point that no amount of money would change their minds.

"This is the home of the ancient ones, and it is up to us to protect Mother Earth," said Lummi Hereditary Chief Bill James Tsilixw. "We have to protect it for future generations."

During the ceremony, Lummi leaders brought up several concerns about the potential development of the coal and bulk cargo shipping terminal, including the idea of having their ancestors' burial sites remaining undisturbed. It was brought up several times during the ceremony that this spirituality is an important part of their cultural heritage.

Lummi leaders also spoke of the need to protect the area for fishing. In a news release along with the ceremony, they said the water is an important shellfish, herring, and salmon fishery area, a reef-net site, and is associated with the creation story of the Lummi people and the First Salmon Ceremony. It was also an entryway from inland routes to the islands in the original homeland territory of the Lummi people.

Three people representing project developer SSA Marine, including Craig Cole, attended the ceremony. Bob Watters, senior vice president, issued a written statement after the event.

"SSA Marine takes its relationship with Lummi very seriously. Over the last year we have worked with Lummi representatives to understand their concerns and needs and make sure the project both respects and meets those concerns and needs," Watters said. "We understand how important their cultural values are to Lummi. The Lummi have communicated to us the particular importance of Xwe' chi' eXen (the Lummi name for Cherry Point) and of having their ancestors rest in peace. We respect those values and will work with Lummi to realize them."

During the ceremony Lummi leaders also expressed concern about coal being shipped out through the terminal, saying that the dust would create environmental damage. Concern was also expressed that America's resources are being shipped overseas, and there is a need to work with other tribes and groups to ensure that it not only doesn't happen at Cherry Point but anywhere else, said Lummi Nation Chairman Cliff Cultee.

"We're going to have to work together as tribes to be united," Cultee said. "Communication is the key, and I'm looking forward to that communication."

More than 100 people attended the ceremony, including those not a part of the tribe but against the terminal project. Paul Anderson presented the Lummi Nation with a gift, a large photograph of the area, during the ceremony.

"I think it's huge that the Lummis have come out against this thing," said Anderson, referring to the Gateway Pacific Terminal project. "SSA Marine can spend all the money they want, but when you have the Lummi Nation come out against the project, it changes the game."

Lummi Nation doesn't appear to have legal standing to directly block the project, but its concerns will be included in the various processes before SSA Marine can get any permits to build the terminal.

In its written response, SSA Marine addressed the other concerns brought up at the ceremony, including how it is working with the Lummi fishers to avoid impacts on that industry. Watters said in the statement that it is also taking "special precautions" to protect cultural resources on the Gateway Pacific Terminal property. This includes restricting public access while ensuring long-term access for Lummi members to cultural resources for ceremonial purposes.


READ THE SSA RESPONSE

Click here to read the full text of SSA Marine's response.

Reach DAVE GALLAGHER at dave.gallagher@bellinghamherald.com or call 715-2269. Visit his business blog online at blogs.bellinghamherald.com/business or get updates on Twitter at twitter.com/BhamHeraldBiz.

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