Creating something out of nothing: Craig Cole and the Northwest Jobs Alliance

by Dena Jensen

I have been re-reading this September 11, 2015 article in The Bellingham Herald, “Lummi tribe says talk of Cherry Point land grab is a fabrication,” about the recent (and to me, thoroughly sickening) actions of the Northwest Jobs Alliance (NWJA) which is an advocacy group for the proposed 48 million ton Gateway Pacific coal terminal (GPT) at Xwe’chi’eXen (Cherry Point).

nwja press release

Front page of the September 10, 2015 Northwest Jobs Alliance press release

In short, according to the article written by Ralph Schwartz, NWJA sent out letters to the Whatcom County Planning Commission and the Army Corps of Engineers, and a press release to the Herald for good measure.  The letters were signed by NWJA President Brad Owens and Chair John Huntley, and flaunted a document that has no official reference on it, just a chart with written material on it directed at no specified individual or group, with no stamp or seal (it could have been written by anyone, for all we know) to the United States Army Corps of Engineers (Army Corps), alleging that it is evidence of Lummi Nation executing a “reservation annexation strategy” for the Cherry Point industrial area.

nwja letter to army corps

Copy of August 20, 2015 Northwest Jobs Alliance letter to the Army Corps of Engineers

All these allegations lead up to a request by NWJA, in their August 20, 2015 letter to the Army Corps that, if fulfilled, would effectively diminish or abrogate Lummi Nation’s treaty rights: “By any standard of basic fairness, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers should not allow itself to be manipulated into aiding in what would amount to a devaluation and confiscation of privately-owned, non-tribal lands.  Please publically [sic] disassociate yourself from this scheme, ensure the normal EIS process is completed*, and encourage the Lummi to engage in good faith discussions with the proponents of GPT to explore win-win possiblities.”

According to the Herald article mentioned above, Northwest Jobs Alliance Director and SSA Marine Consultant Craig Cole said, “…the documented evidence of the tribe’s intentions said ‘in an unambiguous way’ that the tribe is intent on taking Cherry Point land.

“‘Some of it is pretty direct,’ he said.”

I thought to myself, “These statements by Craig Cole are reprehensible!  How could he and NWJA make such careless allegations without citing any conclusive evidence that this document was created by Lummi leaders and has been decided on and announced in any official way as an approved strategy?”

I thought, “Remember that op-ed of Cole’s that The Bellingham Herald published a year ago?  You should look at Sandy’s article on that.”  And so I did.  In going to the copy of “Will the real Craig Cole please stand up?” that is posted here on my Coal Stop blog, I found that the links to Cole’s August 16, 2014 op-ed, and the August 11, 2014 one by Jewell James, that many local Whatcom County residents surmised Cole was responding to, no longer offered access to the material on The Bellingham Herald website.

August 16 oped coleSo, I did some searching for other places to find copies of Cole’s op-ed, “Gateway Pacific Terminal working to safeguard environment, job creation” and James’ op-ed, “2014 totem pole journey honors tribes’ stewardship of land, water,” and in the process I came upon this Shift WA forum post, “Setting the record straight on the Gateway Pacific Terminal project,”  that had been written after Cole’s op-ed had been released.  Shift WA states on their About page that, “…we’re launching, to provide a forum for putting a spotlight on the excesses of the liberals who have been running state government for a generation.”

At the time when I had read Cole’s op-ed a year ago, I was fresh from reading James’ a few days earlier and was properly outraged at how insulting I felt it was that Cole treated James as a non-person by never mentioning him or remarking on James’ position as a Lummi elder and director of the Lummi Sovereignty and Treaty Protection Office, in his August 16 opinion piece.  But when I read this Shift WA post, it dawned on me that along with Cole demonstrating no sensitivity or respect towards Jewell James, there was a strategic advantage I had not realized before, from Cole writing his piece the way he did.

First the Shift WA writer offers this introduction:

“It’s not often enough that the anti-carbon kamikazes are directly refuted for their deliberately misleading arguments. However, following an attack on the Gateway Pacific Terminal in The Bellingham Herald, former Whatcom County Councilmember Craig Cole took to the same newspaper to set the record straight.

“Offering facts to combat absurd claims, Cole accomplishes his mission, dismantling these claims in the environmental extremist attack…”

Then, here’s how Craig Cole’s opinion piece starts to unfold in Shift WA’s play-by-play when there is no Jewell James op-ed in the picture:

“1. CLAIM: ‘The commentator claimed that Gateway Pacific Terminal has disturbed sacred Lummi burial sites.’

“COLE: ‘Located on privately owned property that is not part of the reservation, Gateway Pacific Terminal’s facilities are nevertheless designed to avoid known archeological resources. This will be verified with studies by federal, state and local government authorities.'”

The post goes on to list a second “claim” (each “claim” is a separate allegation about this “commentator” that was made by Cole in his op-ed), “The commentator mistakenly suggests that the Gateway Pacific Terminal project has somehow moved forward with little review or environmental regulation.”  Then the Shift WA writer continues to recount Cole’s effort to “set the record straight,” quoting Cole again, “‘There have been countless hearings and reviews, with more ahead. We support a rigorous evaluation of the project’s environmental and economic impacts. Gateway Pacific Terminal is being subjected to the most comprehensive environmental impact statement review in state history.’”

Do we have any idea who the commentator is that Craig Cole is responding to when reading about them on Shift WA, which describes itself as an “…online platform for shifting the debate in Olympia,”?  Of course not.  Because Cole never said who it was. We can deduce that the “absurd claims” the writer of the Shift WA post refers to are completely of Cole’s creation because they are written in an op-ed with no specific attribution for the source of these supposed claims.  In August 2014 in Whatcom County, many readers of The Bellingham Herald had read Jewell James’ op-ed five days before Cole’s was published with no other relevant op-ed in the Herald anywhere in sight. Thus, here is what Sandy Robson said in her August 29, 2014, Coal Stop article, “Will the real Craig Cole please stand up?” about the first two alleged claims that Cole responds to:

will the real craig“Cole started out his Op-Ed claiming, ‘The Bellingham Herald recently published a guest commentary in which an opponent of the Gateway Pacific Terminal project at Cherry Point made a number of statements that are provably untrue.’ Cole stated that because the ‘spread of misinformation about Gateway Pacific Terminal is a constant challenge,’ that  ‘we [PIT and Cole] are again called upon to correct the record.’ Cole immediately goes on to purport that ‘The commentator [Jewell James] claimed that Gateway Pacific Terminal has disturbed sacred Lummi burial sites.’

“Jewell James never makes this claim in his commentary. Neither does James suggest ‘that the Gateway Pacific Terminal project has somehow moved forward with little review or environmental regulation,’ as Cole alleges ‘the commentator mistakenly suggests,’ in his next effort to supposedly set the record straight. Twice here, respected Lummi elder James is being accused of having made ‘statements that were provably untrue,’ that he never even made.”

Thus, leading readers astray about the reality of any alleged “commentator” making these claims or mistaken suggestions about the Gateway Pacific Terminal project was certainly the effect of Craig Cole’s completely unsubstantiated charges that the claims had been made.  The Shift WA post demonstrates this.  The writer of the post certainly expressed belief in Cole’s success in setting the record straight against claims and suggestions that it turns out have never been proved to have been made.

Seriously, I do think these actions by Craig Cole are deplorable.  Meanwhile, let’s remember who published Craig Cole’s August 16, 2015 op-ed that had not one scrap of attribution for what Cole said were the commentator’s claims and suggestions, or for the specific op-ed to which Cole was supposedly responding: The Bellingham Herald.


  1. The Netwar (networked psychological warfare) mounted by SSA is classic; Put your opponents on the defensive.

    The only time Cole deviated from the SSA offensive was when Sandy Robson put him on the defensive in Whatcom Watch, January 2014.

    By adopting a defensive posture, progressives unwittingly help promote SSA false claims by denying them in the media.

    Earth Ministry, Sightline Institute and Re-Sources have never attacked SSA for sponsoring Tea Party/KGMI/CERA anti-Indian racism.

    The progressive aversion to conflict is due to their inability to confront their enemies, partly from ignorance, partly from a lack of courage.

    Confrontation, however, is the only way to defeat organized racism. This requires courageous leadership, evidently lacking in progressives.

    When Jewell James spoke to church people in Portland, he said, “Where’s the action?”

    Acknowledging their public statements in support of the Totem Journey, he said, “Talk’s good, but action is better.”

    20 years ago, we organized a human rights task force and speakers bureau to engage progressive churches in right action.

    We confronted hate radio at KGMI, held educational events at WWU, participated in LWV forums, and launched a campaign against hate.

    Today, progressives with placards stand in front of the federal building protesting racism in Ferguson; why don’t they protest in front of KGMI?

    Better yet, how about a candlelight peace vigil in front of Craig Cole’s home, and ‘Not in Our Town’ campaign posters in storefront windows.

    Hugging totems is fine, but it won’t deter SSA, BNSF, CERA or the Tea Party. It certainly won’t reign in the Christian Right/Christian Patriot milieu.

    Liked by 1 person

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