Op-Ed

Cherry Point victory shows treaty rights protect us all

Former Lummi Indian Business Council Chairman Darrell Hillaire, left, shakes hands with Lummi Chairman Tim Ballew II after Ballew announced in Lummi Council chambers Monday, May 9, 2016 that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers denied a needed permit for a proposed coal terminal at Cherry Point.
Former Lummi Indian Business Council Chairman Darrell Hillaire, left, shakes hands with Lummi Chairman Tim Ballew II after Ballew announced in Lummi Council chambers Monday, May 9, 2016 that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers denied a needed permit for a proposed coal terminal at Cherry Point. pdwyer@bhamherald.com

When the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers denied Pacific International Terminal’s permit request to build a coal terminal, there were cheers, hugs and more than a few tears shed at Lummi Nation. A long fight to protect our sacred site was realized. Our ancestors smiled upon us.

Our past leaders understood the need to protect our land well into the future. They were forced to make many sacrifices in the Treaty of Point Elliott of 1855. But they never backed down from protecting our right to fish the sacred waters of the Salish Sea. The right to fish, to feed our families and practice our way of life — that was non-negotiable.

We may have come to this fight for different reasons, but by standing together we sent a strong message to the federal government that a terminal at Cherry Point is unacceptable.

So, when we viewed the proposal to build a terminal in the heart of our sacred lands and water, we knew we had an obligation to defend our ancestors’ position on Cherry Point, to defend our treaty rights. We fought this battle to protect our schelangen, the Lummi way of life. That so many came forward to stand with us is humbling.

The Corps received more than 260,000 comments regarding Gateway Pacific Terminal’s proposal to develop a coal terminal at Xwe’chieXen, Cherry Point. The message was clear — the community didn’t want North America’s largest coal terminal in its backyard. Many supporters came forward to say that they stood with Lummi and opposed a corporation coming in to desecrate our tribal land.

This fight brought our community together. Lummi Nation’s position is that a terminal at Cherry Point violates our treaty rights. Our past leaders charged us with protecting our treaty, and that guided every decision along the way.

Community allies were passionate in their opposition to coal exports. Tribal allies joined our fight to take a stand and tell the United States to honor the treaties.

We may have come to this fight for different reasons, but by standing together we sent a strong message to the federal government that a terminal at Cherry Point is unacceptable. And we were, are, a stronger community for it. And our surprising victory this week is made even greater because of it.

For the years leading up to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ decision this week, we never once doubted that denying Pacific International Terminal’s request to build a terminal at Lummi’s sacred site of Cherry Point was the right thing to do. But knowing it is, and believing that the right decision would be made, are two different things.

So, while we went into this fight knowing that our very way of life, our schelangen, was written into our treaty protections, we weren’t confident that a federal agency trusted to uphold treaty rights would do the right thing. But this week, it did. It denied the permit request because it would violate Lummi Nation’s treaty rights. In its 34-page record, the Corps even pointed to the fact that Cherry Point is important to our schelangen, way of life — it’s incredible that the Corps acknowledged that this is about even more than a protected fishing right.

For us, this week’s victory is a celebration of treaty rights. But it’s also a celebration of the power of treaty rights to protect all of us, to preserve our lands and waters for everyone who calls this place home.

Tim Ballew II is chairman of the Lummi Indian Business Council.

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