LUMMI RESERVATION - Coal terminal opponents joined tribal members Friday, Sept. 27, for a half-day of speeches and ceremony centered on a totem pole that has been carried on a journey of more than two weeks from Wyoming coal fields en route to its final destination in British Columbia.
The pole was to be taken to Cherry Point in the late afternoon for a blessing ceremony not far from the spot where SSA Marine of Seattle proposes a coal export terminal that could load as much as 48 million tons of coal per year on freighters headed for China and other Asian nations.
Tribe members contend that the coal terminal would disrupt an important fishing area and disturb the site of an ancient Lummi village that contains the graves of tribal ancestors.
In an emailed statement, SSA Marine Senior Vice President Bob Watters said his company respects tribal concerns about fishing grounds. He denied that sacred sites would be disturbed, and said claims to the contrary had been "fabricated" by coal export opponents.
"Lummi Nation has consistently and directly expressed to SSA Marine their concerns in regards to the potential impacts to their treaty protected fishing rights, the need to safeguard archeological resources and a desire to connect with their traditional homeland for preserving and carrying on their way of life," Watters' statement said. "We sincerely respect the Lummi way of life, their cultural values and the importance of fishing to the tribe, both economically and culturally. Claims that our project will disturb sacred burial sites are absolutely incorrect and fabricated by project opponents who do not possess the facts. The Gateway Pacific Terminal facilities and operations are designed and sited to avoid known archeological resources including the often mentioned historic village site. This will all be verified as the studies by the state and Corps of Engineers assess how the project will work within the local surroundings and environment. We continue to believe we can come to an understanding with the Lummi Nation regarding the GPT project."
The Friday totem pole event was not sponsored by the Lummi Indian Business Council, but the council has taken a strong stand against SSA's Gateway Pacific Terminal proposal, and several council members attended. The sponsoring organization for the totem pole journey is the Native American Land Conservancy, an intertribal group.
The pole was designed and carved by Lummi carver Jewell James and the House of Tears carvers.
Despite wind and rain, about 100 people were there to listen at a Northwest Indian College gathering place as James told of his experiences trucking the pole from the coal fields to the coast, visiting other tribes potentially affected by coal mining and coal trains.
James said he was moved by the Northern Cheyenne tribe's resistance to coal mining that they see as a threat to their land and water supply.
"They're praying for the earth," James said. "They're praying, alongside non-Indian farmers."
James also alluded to the fact that other tribes hope to profit from the mining of coal on their own lands.
"We know they are poverty-stricken, we know they need our support," James said. "But we can't accept the coal going through our territory."
James said he was heartened to learn how many allies Lummi tribe members have in their fight against the coal terminal. Some of those allies also spoke at Friday's event.
Nancy Dumas, a Sumner city council member, said she was convinced that trains full of coal bound for export would disrupt life in her city.
"We're all here together, and we're all drawing the line," Dumas said.
Alexis Bonogofsky, a National Wildlife Federation official in Montana, pledged that residents of her state would stop the mines that would provide the coal for export terminals.
"All of the ranchers and all of the Cheyenne people who have been fighting this are here in spirit," Bonogofsky said. "I just want you to know that we are going to defeat the mine. They are not going to have anything to sell."
Lummi Indian Business Council member Jeremiah Julius called on the gathering to ponder what is sacred.
"That's an important question to ask yourself," Julius said. "What is sacred? To us, for me personally, the lands are sacred."
He argued that economic benefits should not override that.
"So many of us are blinded by jobs," Julius said. "How many jobs are we going to provide in China by giving them a resource that is never going to grow back?"