In defense of treaty rights

An open letter to SSA Marine VP Skip Sahlin
by June 5, 2015
 

Skip Sahlin
Vice President
SSA Marine/Pacific International Terminals
1131 SW Klickitat Way
Seattle, WA 98134


Dear Mr. Sahlin,

I live in Birch Bay, Washington about a mile and a half or so from Cherry Point, where SSA Marine has proposed the Gateway Pacific Terminal (GPT).

I have strongly opposed SSA Marine’s proposed GPT project due to all of the harmful impacts it will cause in Birch Bay, and in nearby surrounding communities which include the Lummi Nation, and communities along the railways used to transport the coal from the Powder River Basin. After reading your May 12, 2015 letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which showed SSA Marine’s indifference to the treaty rights of the Lummi Nation, I now want to fight even harder against SSA Marine’s coal export project.

I can only imagine how the Lummi people must feel about the content of SSA Marine’s May 12, 2015 letter to the Corps, and the attitude it represents. It is my personal opinion that your company’s greed is only surpassed by its lack of honor and lack of true understanding of a culture different from your own.

When I read that May 12 letter I was appalled that your corporation would presume that it was their place to investigate where, if, and when the Lummi Nation is using its fishing grounds when the Lummi were secured the rights to those fishing grounds well over a century ago in the Treaty of Point Elliott of 1855; rights which were reaffirmed by United States v. Washington, 384 F. Supp. 312 (W.D. Wash. 1974), commonly known as the Boldt decision of 1974.

It is clear to me that your company’s refusal to withdraw its permit application for GPT after the Lummi Nation’s January 5, 2015 letter request to the Corps for an immediate denial of the GPT permit, and the tenor of your May 12 letter, are reflective of SSA Marine’s disregard for the Lummi Nation’s treaty rights secured to their nation by the Treaty of Point Elliott.

As a resident of Whatcom County, I have made an effort to learn more about the Lummi Nation’s history and culture. In the August 2013 issue of Whatcom Watch newspaper, there was a special insert from the Lummi Nation, “The Search for Integrity in the Conflict Over Cherry Point as a Coal Export Terminal.” It was written by Jewell Praying Wolf James, a Lummi Nation tribal elder who is with the Lummi Sovereignty and Treaty Protection Office.

One of the subjects Jewell James addressed in his article was the significance of Xwe’chi’eXen (Cherry Point) to the Lummi Nation. I thought it would be relevant to include these two excerpts from his piece:

“In 1979 the Lummi tribe, on its own initiative, sought closure for conservation purposes of the state and tribal commercial herring fishery that extended from the Lummi reservation, past Cherry Point to the Canadian border. The Cherry Point shoreline was a primary herring spawning habitat. The lucrative annual herring fishery was worth about $3 million per year to our treaty fishermen. This closure is still in effect 34 years later. Lummi tribal members have sacrificed over $100 million over that time in lost fishing income. This lost income represents our investment in restoration of the future resident herring population. In addition, the immediate area is good for crab fisheries and other stocks. We understand, honor and respect what needs to be done, and have sometimes sacrificed, to be true stewards of these resources. We consider it our sacred obligation or Xa Xalh Xechnging in our language. Unfortunately, at Cherry Point and elsewhere in the Salish Sea bioregion, this sacred obligation is seldom respected in any meaningful way by either the governments or by commercial and industrial interests. In a sense, Xwe’chi’eXen (Cherry Point) represents a challenge that is faced every day by each one of the American Indian tribes and Canadian First Nation Bands in Salish territory.

“The Lummi have usual and accustomed fishing grounds scattered throughout the San Juan Islands and on the mainland of Whatcom County up to the Canadian border. Not only were our (fishing) village sites located throughout the territory, but the associated burial grounds are located at these sites, as well. Among the most important of these cultural landscapes is Xwe’chi’eXen (Cherry Point).”

I do not believe that the Lummi people would have sacrificed so much in order to protect Xwe’chi’eXen, only then to let SSA Marine foist a 48 million ton per year coal export terminal onto their nation’s sacred waters and lands, which, inter alia, will adversely impact their treaty fishing rights, and imperil the already-threatened herring population.

From everything I observe and I have learned about their nation, their opposition to GPT, like mine and countless others, will continue to be relentless.

The trust relationship of federal agencies to ensure the protection of the treaty rights of the Lummi Nation, and case law upholding those treaty rights, coupled with the huge wave of public opposition to GPT, are the momentous realities staring squarely into the face of your company’s board of directors and officers who owe fiduciary duties to SSA Marine’s shareholders.

Sincerely,

Sandy Robson
Birch Bay, WA

May 27, 2015