Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians approve resolution opposing export of fossil fuels in the PNW
On May 16, 2013, the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians (ATNI) took historic action during their mid-year meeting at Airway Heights, Washington. The 57 tribes of ATNI unanimously adopted a resolution entitled: Opposing the Proposals for the Transportation and Export of Fossil Fuels in the Pacific Northwest. The Tribes took this strong stand, voicing unified opposition against investors, such as Goldman Sachs and the largest transporters and exporters of fossil fuel energy, who are proposing projects in the ancestral territories of ATNI Tribes. Tribes plan to present the resolution at the annual meeting of Goldman Sachs shareholders, this Thursday, May 23, 2013.
This historic ATNI resolution expresses deep concerns about impacts on human health, natural resources, sacred places and way of life in the Northwest region. The concern stretches from the Powder River Basin of the Northern Cheyenne, through the sacred places and treaty fishing areas of the Columbia River, to the Salish Sea waterways of the Western Washington Treaty Tribes. This action parallels the positions Tribal Nations are taking throughout the Nation to protect natural resources with a unified voice though resolutions and/or treaties. The Bristol Bay Native Association and Bristol Bay Native Corporation oppose the Pebble Mine, British Columbia and Yukon First Nations oppose the Enbridge and Kinder Morgan pipelines and Great Plains Tribal Chairmen’s Association oppose the XL Pipeline. There is a common voice that streams through these actions; protection of natural resources for generations to come.
The ATNI Resolution reflects what Tribes believe to be their sacred duty to protect these ancestral territories and natural resources. The President of Quinault Nation, Fawn Sharp stated to ATNI Tribal Leaders: “ In the larger scheme of things, there are many things over which we have no control,such as the disappearing glaciers that feed Lake Quinault and the dead zones in our fishing waters in the Pacific Ocean. But we do have a sacred duty to take the measures over which we do have control, to protect and preserve those parts of the environment that are crucial to our people and culture. That is why we take this stand.”
The ATNI Resolution also reinforced the Tribes’ support for economic development that protects their traditional natural resource economies. Tulalip Chairman and ATNI Vice Chair III, Mel Sheldon shared a strong statement with fellow leaders: “Across the Nation our brothers and sisters are standing together to fight and to protect those natural resources that have sustained the very essence of who we are as the First Americans of this great Nation. We will not allow our treaty and rights, which depend on natural and renewable resources, to be demolished by shortsighted and ultimately detrimental investments. Our ‘hell no’stretches from the shores of Pebble Mine to the mountains, the Great Plains and beyond.”
The ATNI Resolution also specifically calls out support for protection of the Lummi Nation’s treaty protected fishing economy and sacred places, directly affected by the Gateway Pacific Terminal (GPT) at Cherry Point, WA. As proposed, GPT would be the largest coal terminal in North America, located directly north of the Lummi Nation. Lummi Chairman,Tim Ballew II , expressed his thanks to fellow tribes: “Lummi is committed to protecting the treaty rights including all fishing rights identified in the Point Elliot Treaty. We are humbled to have the support of the Affiliated Tribes of the Northwest in our mission to protect that right. The passing of this resolution is good for not only Indian country but for the greater Salish Sea.”
The Resolution voices solidarity with the Lummi Nation as they prepare to protect and defend their sacred burial grounds and traditional reef net sites. Lummi Nation Councilman Jay Julius stated to the ATNI Assembly: “For the Lummi people, Xwe’chi’eXen (Cherry Point) is the final resting place of our Ancient Ones. For 3,500 years our people lived there in a world of abundance. We know that Xwe’chi’eXen is one of our historic reef-net sites and is still a critical area for our fishing lifeway.
With all this at risk, the Gateway Pacific project would result in significant, unavoidable, and unacceptable interference with our treaty rights and irreversible and irretrievable damage to our spiritual values.”
In the resolution, the ATNI tribes expressed concern about the risks these proposals present to the train and vessel transportation corridors that will bring fossil fuel products across their territories. In the Salish Sea and Columbia River, altogether these proposed energy export expansions will cause an increase of approximately 4,136 vessel transits per year and 60 train transits per day through Spokane, each train a mile and a half long. Another 5,000 train trips per year are also anticipated due to a new “pipeline on wheels,” using trains shipping 70,000 barrels per train of Bakken shale oil from Montana/North Dakota to Northwest ports.
Facing these detrimental impacts, Yakama Nation Chairman, Harry Smiskin, who’s community and reservation sit in the heart of the rail routes, shared that they have considerable concerns regarding the proposed transportation in the Northwest: “Our treaties and natural resources and our way of life is in jeopardy, and we are left with no other option than to fully oppose any and all current and proposed coal transport and export projects in Washington and Oregon.”
The ATNI tribes are clear that this is not just a tribal issue but one that has the potential to adversely affect vast economies– from industry, to recreational fishing and hunting, to retail — up and down the Western Washington commercial corridor. For example, in the past five years the federal and state government and tax payers have invested approximately $1.15 Billion restoring and protecting the Salish Sea and $3 Billion in restoration of the Columbia River Basin over a 20-year period.
While the ATNI tribes support public investment in habitat restoration, they question permitting of these fossil fuel industries as inconsistent with the stated goals of restoration. Tribes support new jobs, but there is a lack of data included in any of the advertisements for the new energy export projects that would disclose the predicted loss of existing jobs in tribal and commercial fisheries and recreational industries. Those existing jobs are at the foundation of Washington State’s current economic base. In a 2009 report called “Fish, Wildlife and Washington’s Economy,” WDFW estimated that Washington’s commercial fishing industry provided 60,250 jobs. The Department’s 2011 report states that Washington’s commercial fisheries generated a total of $3.9 billion in personal income in Washington State.
The significance of this ATNI action was summarized by Swinomish Chairman Brian Cladoosby, sharing a message to fellow Northwest citizens and to the Nation: “We want the world to understand that the impacts of over 2,300 giant new vessels transporting over 70 million tons of coal per year in the Salish Sea and over 500,000 barrels of oil per day by train across our lands, rivers, and wetlands will devastate our treaty and aboriginal fishing areas, sacred places and human health. These industries put in jeopardy our sustainability as salmon people of the Northwest…We view the energy export issue facing the Pacific Northwest, not as a question of “jobs versus the environment,” as it is popularly described, but as a clear choice about our Northwest quality of life and the health of our salmon, upon which our lives and so many of our local jobs depend. The choice is about the type of life we want for all our grandchildren, for generations to come.”