by Sandy Robson
The Lummi, a Coast Salish people, are the original inhabitants of Washington state’s northernmost coast and southern British Columbia. The Lummi Nation is a self-governing nation and is the third largest tribe in Washington state. Lummi refer to themselves as the Lhaq’temish, or People of the Sea. Their survival and culture have depended on the annual migrations of salmon for centuries, but salmon are now severely threatened after salmon stocks have drastically declined.
Presently, threatening the Lummi, their treaty rights, and the salmon they depend on, is Gateway Pacific Terminal (GPT), a 48 million metric ton per year coal export terminal proposed at Xwe’chi’eXen (Cherry Point) in Whatcom County, Washington, along the Salish Sea shoreline. The company proposing the coal export terminal is Pacific International Terminals (PIT), a subsidiary created for the GPT project by SSA Marine, one of the largest shipping terminal operators in the world.
Despite the Lummi Nation’s multiple expressions of their position that the impacts on the Nation’s treaty rights associated with GPT cannot be mitigated, executives of SSA Marine are not listening.
Lummi people have fished in the waters of the northern Puget Sound and the Nooksack River since time immemorial, and the Lummi’s treaty fishing rights are secured to them by our federal government in the Treaty of Point Elliott of 1855. Article 5 of the Treaty provides that, “The right of taking fish from usual and accustomed grounds and stations is further secured to said Indians in common with all citizens of the Territory. . .”
Lummi Indian Business Council (LIBC) Chairman Tim Ballew II sent a January 5, 2015 letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (“the Corps”) requesting that the Corps take action and immediately deny SSA/PIT’s permit application for the proposed GPT project, “based, inter alia, on the project’s adverse impact on the treaty rights of the Lummi Nation.” The LIBC letter further stated, “The impacts on the Nation’s treaty rights associated with this project cannot be mitigated.”
Since the news of Lummi Nation’s letter to the Corps, executives from SSA/PIT launched a barrage of proclamations of their supposed “good faith” offers for face-to-face negotiations between the company and Lummi Nation about the project. SSA/PIT used the media and the company’s GPT email mailing list to deliver those invitations, which in the language of sincerity, seemed to be put forth more for public opinion than anything else.
Recent statements on its Facebook page made by the Political Action Committee (PAC) SAVEWhatcom, which has received over $20,000 in contributions from SSA/PIT, appear to be an attempt to drive public opinion against the Lummi Nation’s strong oppositional stance to GPT. SAVEWhatcom’s statements call into question the sincerity of SSA/PIT in their claims of “good faith,” when a PAC the company donated money to puts out messaging that seems in such bad faith.
On February 5, one month after the Lummi Nation’s letter to the Corps, SAVEWhatcom made the following post on its Facebook page that seems fit to rouse some rabble in Whatcom County:
The Lummi Nation refuses to meet with SSA Marine to discuss mediation as they professed willingness to do the right thing after the SEPA and NEPA studies were completed.
The Lummi Nation owns and operates the Silver Reef Casino, who’s [sic] purpose it is to provide people with the ‘opportunity’ to gamble away their wages or Social Security checks. That’s a better purpose than to build a state-of-the-art dry bulk exporting facility at Cherry Point? And, as they lobby at the door step of the Washington State Legislator’s and the Governor’s office asking for preferential treatment above the non-Indian residents of the State of Washington…How ironic?
The SAVEWhatcom PAC and its affiliated WhatcomFirst PAC were formed in August and September 2013 for the November Whatcom County Council election that year. The two PACs are strong advocates for the GPT project, and in 2013, were funded primarily with $149,000 from SSA/PIT, BNSF, and coal companies. These dual PACs’ efforts were primarily focused on attempting to get a slate of four conservative county council candidates elected who were thought most likely to approve permits needed for GPT.
So, here goes SAVEWhatcom making a defamatory statement that the Lummi Nation’s Silver Reef Casino’s “purpose” is to take people’s wages and social security checks. Statements like this create resentment, and/or fuel the already present resentment from individuals and groups about Lummi Nation and its efforts to protect its treaty rights.
SAVEWhatcom’s post then pits its contrived image of the Lummi Nation’s Silver Reef Casino, against a modern and benign-sounding “dry bulk export facility.” By means of this construction, the post can readily come to life in the form of public pressure that seeks to compel the Lummi Indian Business Council into negotiations with SSA/PIT.
A long strong line has been drawn
The Lummi Nation has already expressed multiple times that negotiating or discussing the GPT project with SSA/PIT is not an option, as evidenced in the excerpt below from LIBC Chairman Tim Ballew’s February 3, 2015 response letter to a January 30, 2015 letter from SSA/PIT executive Skip Sahlin.
Ballew stated in his letter to Sahlin: “While we appreciate your desire to engage on these issues, we remain steadfastly opposed to this project and do not see the utility in pursuing any further discussion.” Ballew also had said in a January 17, 2015 Bellingham Herald article: “We’re not negotiating with GPT or SSA because the standpoint from the leadership, the community and the fishermen is, there’s no way to mitigate the project.”
According to the Washington State Public Disclosure Commission website, Kris Halterman, Whatcom Tea Party board member and talk radio host for her weekly Saturday Morning Live program on KGMI, is listed on SAVEWhatcom PAC’s amended registration form as Campaign Manager; she had originally been listed as Committee Officer. Whatcom Tea Party board member Lorraine Newman is listed as a Committee Officer. Both Halterman and Newman write content for the SAVEWhatcom blog website.
Dick Donahue, a Bellingham financial planner and talk radio host for his Wealth Wake Up weekly program on KGMI, is listed on the registration form for the affiliated WhatcomFirst PAC as a Committee Officer (that registration form was later amended to list him as Campaign Manager). Donahue, Halterman, and Newman are all very vocal advocates for the GPT project.
An Honorary Resolution Dishonored
On an October 26, 2013 Wealth Wake Up show, Donahue was joined by Kris Halterman to talk about the upcoming elections and why SAVEWhatcom was created. Halterman told listeners that in mid-July (2013) she and Donahue became aware of a resolution that the Whatcom County Democrats Central Committee had passed on July 18, 2013, and that the resolution was the reason they formed the SAVEWhatcom PAC.
Halterman referred to the resolution as “the Cherry Point Resolution.” The actual title of that resolution is: “The Resolution to Honor the Lummi Nation’s Sacred Lands and Waters at Cherry Point.” It was an honorary resolution in support of the Lummi Nation protecting its sacred lands and sacred waters at Cherry Point, but during the 2013 election season, SSA/PIT used that resolution negatively in its September 2013 GPT ad insert, “Report to the Community Volume 3,” placed in local newspapers. That honorary resolution has been misrepresented and used negatively by groups associated with SSA/PIT in their advocacy for GPT.
One of those groups, SAVEWhatcom, echoed SSA/PIT’s negative ad messaging about the resolution, distorting its intent and meaning, and used it as a weapon in their advertising during the 2013 election season. Since that time, SAVEWhatcom has continued to use its twisted misrepresentation of that resolution negatively. In both SSA/PIT’s and SAVEWhatcom’s advertising about the resolution, neither used its title, which includes the words “Resolution to Honor the Lummi Nation’s Sacred Lands and Waters at Cherry Point,” which, if provided, would likely give people a better understanding of what that resolution was about. SAVEWhatcom perpetuated the false premise that the resolution represented efforts to “deindustrialize Cherry Point and make it impossible for local farmers to succeed,” in advertising such as a September 24, 2013 SAVEWhatcom Facebook post.
On Halterman’s March 30, 2013 KGMI Saturday Morning Live radio show, two of the guests she interviewed were Hobart, Wisconsin, resident Elaine Willman, a board member and former chair of Citizens Equal Rights Alliance (CERA), and local former Whatcom County Council member Marlene Dawson, who has worked tirelessly to undermine the Treaty of Point Elliott between local Indian tribes and the United States. Willman and Dawson promoted the April 6, 2013 “Citizens Equal Rights Alliance Educational Conference” on Federal Indian Policy, held by CERA and its sister organization, Citizens Equal Rights Foundation (CERF). The conference was held at the Lakeway Inn, in Bellingham, Washington.
On that March 30 show, in bringing up the Centennial Accord, Elaine Willman made this reprehensible statement: “In 1989, Governor Lowry smelled gaming money and instituted the Centennial Accord. That became a state self-inflicted elevation of the tribal sovereign voice to be equivalent to the state’s voice. That was the step that has continued for almost 25 years now through what I call the real Trail of Tears—Governor Lowry, Governor Locke, Governor Gregoire and now Governor Inslee. That process, over twenty-five years, is secretly taking down Washington state.” (italicized real represents Willman’s vocal emphasis)
Willman and Dawson returned as guests on Halterman’s Saturday Morning Live radio show on April 6, to discuss tribal issues, Federal Indian Policy, and to further promote the CERA conference happening that same day where both Dawson and Willman were featured speakers.
CERA states on its website, “We do not tolerate racial prejudice of any kind. We do not knowingly associate with anyone who discriminates based on race.“ However, in a March 28, 2014 article published online by Indian Country Today Media Network (ICTMN), Terri Hansen, an award-winning Native American journalist and correspondent for ICTMN, said this about the CERA/CERF organizations: “CERA and its sister, Citizens Equal Rights Foundation (CERF), are the foremost anti-sovereignty, anti-treaty organizations in the U.S. anti-Indian movement.”
Federal Indian law attorney Dave Lundgren wrote about exposing groups like CERA in his April 2, 2014 article, published by Indian Country today Media Network. Lundgren wrote: “Disregard the disguise of their flimsy legal arguments, and expose their true motives by documenting and publicizing details of the discriminatory effects of their actions. . .Public education is often the best defense in the face of hatred disguised by fabricated legal arguments. Not only will it expose the true motives behind puffed up accusations, but it also educates the uninformed on the caustic harms caused by discrimination.“
On Dick Donahue’s March 30, 2013 KGMI Wealth Wake Up talk radio show, he interviewed local Lynden, Washington, CERA board member Tom Williams, promoting the April 6 CERA/CERF conference in Bellingham. Williams told listeners that CERA had held two similar conferences (New York and Massachusetts) that year, and one more was upcoming in June of that year in Northern California.
Acknowledging the fact that he had been actively promoting the conference, Donahue said during the segment, “Now I’ve promoted this, or announced this meeting several times in the last month or so on the air. . .” Encouraging listeners to register for the conference, both Donahue and Williams announced various ways to do that. They also said that Halterman’s Saturday Morning Live website had a flyer posted there with information on conference registration and Donahue provided that web address.
Charles Tanner, a longtime civil and human rights activist who has conducted research and public education on white supremacist and anti-Indian movements, authored an April 26, 2013 report on the CERA/CERF conference in Bellingham.
In his report, Tanner wrote that CERA board member Tom Williams was one of the organizers of the conference. Tanner also reported that, “KGMI talk show hosts Kris Halterman and Dick Donahue both attended the conference. . .A broadcast of Halterman interviewing CERA leaders played as attendees trickled into the conference room.” That April 6, 2013 broadcast of Halterman interviewing a cross section of the featured speakers at the conference was pre-recorded at the Lakeway Inn venue, and was broadcasted during Donahue’s Wealth Wake Up show time that day.
Still rallying resentment
Since the April 6, 2013 CERA/CERF conference, the organization continues to be active in its efforts to espouse its recurring strategic theme. That strategic theme, according to Charles Tanner’s report, is that, “anti-Indian activists should mine federal laws and court cases for anti-tribal language that can be used to seek termination in the courts and ‘educate’ local and state officials. CERA’s ‘legal theory’, in the end, combines anti-tribal ideas drawn from federal Indian law and false claims that tribes have no political sovereignty or treaty rights.”
CERA’s website shows that the group held two events (over a 3-day period) in Riverton, Wyoming in June 2014. A two-day conference was held for the public. In addition, a workshop was held specifically for elected officials, key staff, legal counsels, and law enforcement there, which was closed to the media and public, and it was held, of all places, at City Hall. CERA’s website shows they have plans for an upcoming 2015 conference, although no location or details about that are available yet. And while the trail from CERA to SAVEWhatcom is, so far, foggy in nature, it is wise for community members to be watchful for any increase and escalation of defamatory claims in regards to Native American issues and enterprises made by either organization.
Putting on the squeeze
In the weeks leading up to SAVEWhatcom’s February 5, 2015 Facebook post containing negative messaging about the Lummi Nation, SSA Marine executives had been busy touting their so-called invitations and standing offers for “good faith discussions” they wish to have with Lummi Nation about GPT. SSA Marine executive Bob Watters was given an opportunity by The Bellingham Herald to do just that in a January 10, 2015 op-ed (some people have termed his piece an “op-ad”) he authored that the newspaper published in its Whatcom Opinion section. In his op-ed, Watters wrote:
First, Gateway Pacific Terminal will protect tribal cultural and historical sites on our private property, which is not part of the reservation. And we very much appreciate the concern about the challenges to Lummi fishers (who have been forced to rely upon substantial federal subsidies and retraining grants). This makes self-sustaining, private-sector job creation all the more important and we have a standing offer out to the Lummi and other affected tribes to discuss how we can work to enhance their cultural and economic prospects. Gateway Pacific Terminal and tribal interests can be harmonized if good faith discussions can take place, and we look forward to that opportunity.
By SSA/PIT continuing to talk at Lummi Nation and exert pressure with its public relations campaign through the media and via its GPT mouthpieces such as the Northwest Jobs Alliance, the company is not recognizing, nor truly honoring tribal sovereignty and the government-to-government relationship that exists between Native American Tribes and the U.S. federal government.
At a May 15, 2013 United States Senate Committee on Indian Affairs hearing, then-Chairwoman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) had this to say about the relationship between Tribal governments and the federal government:
The government-to-government relationship is grounded in the United States Constitution, treaties, federal statutes, and Supreme Court decisions. This relationship is a mature relationship, expressed in terms of legal duties, moral obligations, and expectancies that have arisen based on the continuous history of Tribal interactions with the federal government since the formation of the United States.
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 the company’s proposed coal export terminal, are the momentous realities staring squarely into the face of SSA/PIT.
SAVEWhatcom posted on social media that the Lummi Nation “refuses to meet with SSA Marine.” SSA/PIT executives have continued to make statements such as Skip Sahlin made in his January 30, 2015 letter to Chairman Tim Ballew, “Our door is always open and the GPT team looks forward to continuing to communicate with Lummi during the projects permitting and development process.” This messaging can give some people the incorrect impression that the Lummi are somehow not being reasonable. Lummi Nation Chairman Tim Ballew’s statement in a February 3, 2015 Bellingham Herald story provided clarity on that subject, “Negotiation between Lummi and Pacific International Terminals is not an option. Our treaty rights are non-negotiable and not for sale.”
Stomping in their grounds
What is, in fact, unreasonable, is how things have been framed by SSA/PIT, and how some local media enabled that framing following the news of the Lummi Nation’s January 5, 2015 letter to the Corps. The reality is that the Lummi Nation is a sovereign nation, and it has a government-to-government relationship with the federal government of the United States.
In a February 9, 2015 Bellingham Herald story posted on the online Politics Blog, reporter Ralph Schwartz wrote: “There has been a lot of back-and-forth over the past five weeks among Lummi Nation, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Gateway Pacific Terminal as the tribe asserts its fishing rights, in order to stop the coal terminal from being built.”
Technically, one could say, like Schwartz did, that the Lummi Nation asserted its fishing rights in order to stop the coal terminal, but a community member sent me an email offering another perspective:
Knowing there was a treaty against it, a coal terminal insisted on stomping in the middle of treaty-protected fishing grounds, so the coal terminal had to be reminded what it already knew—that it would be breaking the law—the supreme law of the land. It isn’t that the Lummi tried to stop a terminal. It’s that a terminal tried to stop them.