A Sovereign Nation Stands Tall

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.salmon

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.

totem journey seattle

Photo by James Leder taken during the 2014 “Our Shared Responsibility–the Land, the Waters, the People” Totem Pole journey from South Dakota to the Salish Sea, which concluded in Alberta, Canada. The photo was taken in Seattle as the Totem Pole was on its way north. The journey was to demonstrate a shared responsibility for the lands, the waters and the peoples who face environmental and cultural devastation from coal and oil megaprojects. The 19-foot-tall Totem Pole was carved by Lummi elder and Master Carver Jewell James, who said a primary goal of the journey was to connect tribal nations along the coal corridor.

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.”

Enter SAVEWhatcom

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:

How ironic?

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.how ironic save whatcom

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.”

Radio-powered PACs 


Lorraine Newman testifying at November 29, 2012 GPT EIS scoping hearing in Ferndale, WA


Kris Halterman testifying at November 29, 2012 GPT EIS scoping hearing in Ferndale, WA

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 cropped black white borderDick 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.savewhatcom-resolution-photo-02182015

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.

Treaty rights resentment bubbling upcera event page fb cropped


tea party cera post

Whatcom Tea Party Facebook post from March 22, 2013 promoting the April 6, 2013 CERA/CERF conference in Bellingham, WA

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 TearsGovernor 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)

Trail of Tears

Wikipedia webpage for Trail of Tears. They note that the search terms on their website: “‘Amerindian Holocaust’ and ‘Native American Genocide’ redirect here.”

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.“cera board members

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.

idle no more lakeway inn

Idle No More rally in defense of sovereignty, protesting the April 6, 2013 CERA/CERF conference at the Lakeway Inn in Bellingham, WA. Screen shot of YouTube video of the gathering.

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.CERA speakers

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 Elected Officials WorkshopCERA’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.

nwja elders

NWJA GPT promotional piece responding to City of Bellingham’s letter in support of Lummi Nation’s January 5, 2015 letter to the Army Corps of Engineers

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.


Supporters of sacred lands and waters embarked on this Sacred Walk during Lummi Stommish Water Festival June 2014

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.

salmon flip


  1. CERA field organizer Phillip Brendale, interviewed by Halterman and Donohue on KGMI, first proposed GPT funding for an anti-Indian campaign at the April 2013 conference. Brendale’s plan was implemented by the GPT consortium in August 2013. In Brendale’s own words, the campaign is, “the opportunity to strike a most devastating psychological blow to Northwest tribes’ pride and their sense of well-being.”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. In the 2014 Hansen article at ICTMN, attorney Lundgren said, “CERA provides manufactured legal arguments like the Klan provides white, hooded robes for people to hide behind.” In a 2004 ICTMN article, Lundgren asked, “Why is the Justice Department turning a blind eye to these purveyors of hate?,” stating, “An organization whose sole purpose is to attack rights protected by federal and constitutional law is not any different than the Ku Klux Klan.”


  3. Lot’s of idiots listen to KGMI and their FlagShip Bloviator Limbaugh
    but I’m sure they don’t represent the vast majority of PNW citizens who reject the out-and-out racism of the station and its mouthpieces.
    Thanks for a great overview of the most disgusting form of Capitalism in practice – the Profits of Racial Scapegoating.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I love the CERA conference presenters list. Describing Marlene Dawson as a “pro se Attorney” and Skip Richards as a “paralegal” is hilarious. Neither has any legitimate credentials in the practice of law, but both have two decades experience promoting hate and encouraging racist violence toward Lummi Nation.


  5. September 2015 is the 20th anniversary of KGMI talk show host Jeff Kent leading Fee Land Owners Association representatives Jeff McKay and Linnea Smith in an hour-long diatribe against Lummi Nation for protecting its water resources on the Lummi Indian Reservation. Kent’s program was terminated by KGMI in response to public outcry. Where’s the public outcry to terminate Halterman’s show?


  6. Your note that the trail from CERA to SAVEWhatcom is “foggy in nature” could be misunderstood.

    The working relationship between Whatcom Tea Party (WTP), KGMI and CERA is crystal clear; SAVEWhatcom (SW) is an offshoot of that relationship.

    CERA publicly instructed WTP to seek GPT funding, which emerged as SW. The foggy areas are the private discussions between SW, WTP and GPT from April to August, 2013.


  7. After paying an out-of-court settlement for illegally bulldozing the Lummi burial ground at Cherry Point, Watters’ remarks about protecting tribal cultural sites on its private property exhibit astounding hubris and dishonesty. His feigned concern for Lummi fishers, suggesting GPT jobs will help get them off federal grants and subsidies, is not so different from other racists clamoring for an end to welfare.

    Insinuating that Indians receive “preferential treatment” is part of the CERA strategy, ignoring the fact that it was the violation of treaties by the U.S. Government that led to Indian gaming as a compensatory consolation prize. While it is true that Indian tribes receive federal grants and subsidies, as do all 50 states and many corporations, it is far less than what is due them in terms of the value of stolen reservation lands and resource royalties, as well as failure to enforce U.S. trust responsibilities to protect treaty resources.

    That failure, along with diminishing federal support to tribes, means that federal subsidies and grants do little more than partially replace reductions in federal budgets for treaty obligations like health and education. Tribes that step up to protect their treaty rights and resources are simply doing what the U.S. has failed to do, despite all the lofty promises to tribes.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Jay T: Thank you for all the additional information. I wish I could have included much more than I did, but then the article would be even longer than it already is. There was more information that I would have liked to have added.

    What I found interesting in researching information about the KGMI radio shows for my article, was that Whatcom Tea Party board member Kris Halterman began hosting the SML radio show in 2012. That timing lines up well with the timing for the proposed GPT permit application process and the EIS scoping in 2012. On the SML radio shows, there was a great deal of focus on GPT with frequent shows, many of which were devoted to that subject, or were on issues relating to GPT. A similar pattern was also evident throughout the SML blog posts starting in 2012 and continuing through the years following that. Leading into, and during the 2013 county council election season, GPT was even more frequently a topic for the radio shows and accompanying SML blog.

    In looking at the KGMI radio shows, I also found that Ken Oplinger, who was one of the most vocal local (Whatcom) supporters of GPT, and a former co-chair of Northwest Jobs Alliance (created to promote GPT), hosted a radio show on KGMI called, The Whatcom Report.

    Oplinger was the former CEO of the Whatcom/Bellingham Chamber of Commerce and a former Blaine City Council member. He left Whatcom in June of 2013 for a new job with the Santa Barbara Chamber of Commerce, where among other things, he is applying his GPT advocacy experience as he is now advocating for oil/fracking as evidenced in numerous articles in that local area.

    The first show on the program list of The Whatcom Report (listed online) started in August of 2012 which was the month leading into the GPT scoping period for the EIS which started Sept. 24. Looking at the list, it seemed that the focus of many of those shows in 2012 was the proposed GPT and related subjects such as the No Coal initiative in Bellingham.

    Here is a link to a list of The Whatcom Report radio shows:

    Certainly, the proposed GPT has received a great deal of advocacy coverage via some of KGMI’s talk radio shows. What I’d like to know is how did it come about that on Halterman’s, Donahue’s, and Oplinger’s shows, that these radio show hosts chose to focus such a sizable amount of airtime to advocate for that particular project?

    The Saturday Morning Live show has had an an emphasis on not only GPT, but also had numerous shows on issues closely related to that project such as regulations on businesses/industries, property rights (which pertains directly to regulations), water rights, and tribal issues relating to water rights—including issues relating to tribal sovereignty and treaty rights. Those shows centering on Native Americans were presented through the eyes of people such as CERA board members Elaine Willman and Tom Williams, along with Marlene Dawson, who work to undermine tribal treaty rights and tribal sovereignty, as they disseminate their views on these issues to the public—KGMI afforded them a platform to do that, via the radio.

    There were also numerous times that Donahue’s Wealth Wake Up show focused on GPT and GPT-related issues. It is my understanding that his wealth management firm, Asset Advisors, is a sponsor for both his show and Halterman’s Saturday Morning Live show. On Asset Advisors’ website in advertising Donahue’s Wealth Wake Up show, it says: “. . .Dick Donahue helps simplify the complexities of managing wealth and finances in an ever changing market and economic climate.”

    I wonder exactly how Donahue’s featured guest CERA board member Tom Williams discussing Federal Indian Policy and promoting the CERA conference, fits in with the show’s stated purpose of helping to “simplify the complexities of managing wealth and finances?”


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s