Let’s not be distracted

(This is the first publication of this piece which Whatcom Watch refused to publish when it was submitted to their publication in May 2014)

Commentary by Sandy Robson

On February 5, 2014, SSA Marine’s local consultant for its Gateway Pacific Terminal (GPT) project, Craig Cole, sent a letter to Whatcom Watch threatening a libel lawsuit in response to my article entitled, “What Would Corporations Do? Native American Rights and the Gateway Pacific Terminal,” published in the January issue of Whatcom Watch. The fact that Mr. Cole claimed he was libeled in an article in which he was never mentioned, and threatened to sue Whatcom Watch, distracts and misdirects attention from the article’s content.

I believe it’s most important to focus on the referenceable information contained in my article, rather than Craig Cole’s letter, which fogged the real issues in the article, and has dissipated the essence of what I wrote.

The following are important facts from which we must not be distracted:

SSA Marine/Pacific International Terminals (PIT) and BNSF funded the conservative political PACs SaveWhatcom/WhatcomFirst

GPT permit applicants SSA Marine/PIT and BNSF, along with coal terminal related companies, funded the affiliated political PACs SaveWhatcom/WhatcomFirst to the tune of $149,000. These PACs, founded by locals Kris Halterman and Dick Donahue, were focused on attempting to get the four conservative County Council candidates elected who were the most likely out of all eight candidates campaigning for County Council, to approve permits for GPT.

SaveWhatcom/WhatcomFirst PACs called into question a resolution to honor Lummi Nation’s sacred lands and waters of Cherry Point

Halterman’s and Donahue’s SaveWhatcom/WhatcomFirst PACs used a resolution (“Resolution to Honor the Lummi Nation’s Sacred Lands and Waters Of Cherry Point”), passed in July 2013 by the Whatcom County Democrats, honoring the Lummi Nation’s sacred lands and waters at Cherry Point, as a negative centerpiece in their coal-funded PAC’s messaging by advertising that the Lummi support resolution called for the de-industrialization of Cherry Point, and that it would also make it “impossible for farmers to survive.” That messaging/advertising was posted on September 24, 2013 by SaveWhatcom on its Facebook page and was also used in their PAC’s 2013 election mailers distributed county-wide.

SSA Marine/PIT’s September 2013 ad called into question quoted excerpts from the resolution to honor Lummi Nation

Additionally, SSA Marine/PIT’s September 2013 advertisement, “Gateway Pacific Terminal Report to the Community Volume 3,” featured quoted excerpts taken from the Lummi support resolution. I did not include this ad information in my WW article, but it is one more piece of additional referenceable information.

In that GPT ad, quoted excerpts from the Lummi support resolution were used to challenge the intent and meaning of that resolution in terms of whether the people/group behind the resolution were supportive of job creation at Cherry Point, and it suggested that the Lummi support resolution would rule out farming/agricultural water use. The ad left open to interpretation, as to whether that could mean that the “political organization endorsing a slate of candidates for the Whatcom County Council” (Whatcom Democrats), who passed the resolution, or the Lummi Nation who was the subject of that honorary resolution, or perhaps even both, were not supportive of jobs at Cherry Point, and of local farming.

The GPT ad stated that survey research indicated that most people support job creation on private property within the designated Cherry Point heavy industrial area, but then it stated that not everyone does. Then, directly below that claim, it quoted excerpts taken from the Lummi support resolution. While the quoted excerpts taken from the resolution were used in the GPT ad, the actual name of the Lummi support resolution, “Resolution to Honor the Lummi Nation’s Sacred Lands and Waters Of Cherry Point,” and the name of the group who passed the resolution, Whatcom Democrats, were not specified in the ad.

SaveWhatcom/WhatcomFirst PAC organizers and KGMI radio show hosts Kris Halterman and Dick Donahue promoted and attended April 2013 CERA conference

Kris Halterman and Dick Donahue are very vocal supporters of GPT and they both host radio shows on KGMI. Halterman and Donahue interviewed Citizens Equal Rights Alliance (CERA) board members Elaine Wilman and Tom Williams promoting the April 6, 2013 CERA conference that appeared to be aimed at weakening tribal treaty rights, held at the Bellingham Lakeway Inn. Halterman and Donahue also attended that conference.

Speaking at the conference, CERA legal counsel Lana Marcussen stated, “I’ll tell you, I think the water rights issue being number one …. We start representing communities, citizens groups. I guess what I’m going to tell you is start getting organized.” The treaty water rights conversation at the conference focused on the Nooksack River watershed where the Lummi and Nooksack tribes hold senior water rights under the 1855 Point Elliott Treaty. This strategy to organize and focus on water rights, suggested by Ms. Marcussen, including her quoted remarks, was referenced in an April 26, 2013 Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights (IREHR) article “‘Take These Tribes Down’ The Anti-Indian Movement Comes to Washington State,” by Charles Tanner.

CERA conference speaker Phillip Brendale announced the opportunity to strike a “devasting psychological blow to Northwest Tribes’ pride and sense of well-being”

Tanner’s article also referenced CERA conference speaker Phillip Brendale, who pointed out specific language regarding the Boldt Decision (court decision about tribal treaty fishing rights), which he suggested could be used as a weapon to be wielded against tribal communities. Tanner reported that Brendale said, “We have at our disposal what we need – the weapon, the means, the opportunity and the financial support to take these tribes down. What do we get for our trouble: the opportunity to strike a most devastating psychological blow to Northwest tribes’ pride and their sense of well-being.”

These referenceable facts I’ve listed above, including additional information in my article, can be used by readers to come to their own conclusions in terms of what that information means to them. Readers can then ask questions as I did in my article, about what this all might mean. Hopefully, readers will want to seek out more information.

Unfortunately, Mr. Cole’s threatening letter to Whatcom Watch about my article, and about me personally, has been a distraction, thereby diverting attention from what truly was my hope in writing the piece; which was to shine a light on the information I had researched and presented in my article, and to question what that information on the subject of Native American Rights and the proposed GPT might mean to our community.

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