Northwest tribes stand with Lummis at Cherry Point in opposition to coal port

Speaking in the Lummi language, tribal chief Bill James told a crowd assembled Thursday, April 30, on the Gulf Road beach at Cherry Point that a late elder once brought him to the site and told him, “This is the place of our ancestors from long ago. They need to be protected.”

Speeches by Lummi tribal members and a seaside lunch featuring prawns, crabs and halibut fished from Puget Sound marked the end of the two-day Tribal Habitat Conference, where Puget Sound tribes shared stories about habitat restoration — and degradation.

“Toxins, coal dust, oil, it doesn’t know the boundaries of a reservation,” Lummi council member Jay Julius told the group. “Yes, we are like the miner’s canary. We have been for 100 years now. ... But what happens to us will inevitably happen to everybody else.”

Lummi Chairman Tim Ballew said the tribes came to Cherry Point on Thursday to “get a better understanding of where the location is” for the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal, which is under environmental review. Once fully operational, the terminal would export as much as 48 million metric tons of coal annually to overseas markets.

The Lummis in January asked the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to reject a permit for the terminal, on the grounds that vessel traffic and the terminal pier would interfere with fishing rights written into an 1855 treaty with the federal government.

Ballew told the tribes assembled at Cherry Point that the meeting was “a true acknowledgment of sovereignty.”

“You understand what we’re fighting for,” Ballew said.