by Sandy Robson
The Lynden Tribune newspaper made the decision to publish a December 23, 2015 opinion piece submitted by Chair John Huntley and President Brad Owens of the Northwest Jobs Alliance (NWJA). The NWJA advocates for the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal (GPT) project. Their op-ed leveled unsubstantiated, defamatory allegations at unnamed “leadership” of the Lummi Nation, a self-governing Indian Nation, and those allegations could easily be perceived as having been leveled at Lummi Nation as a whole.
The Lummi, a Coast Salish people, are the original inhabitants of Washington state’s northernmost coast and southern British Columbia. The Lummi Reservation is located in western Whatcom County, and it is governed by the Lummi Indian Business Council (LIBC), an eleven member tribal council.
NWJA’s December 23, 2015 Lynden Tribune op-ed claimed that “the current leadership of the Lummi Nation has embarked upon a campaign against the working families of Whatcom County.” In an attempt to support that inflammatory claim, NWJA pointed to a December 10, 2015 letter from Kirk Vinish of the Lummi Nation’s Planning Department. However, a review of that 2-page letter produced no evidence to support such a claim.
In contrast, NWJA has left a trail of evidence demonstrating its continued pattern of negative messaging to raise resentment about, and discredit, the Lummi Nation’s opposition to GPT by sending accusatory letters to the Army Corps and Whatcom County, and by disseminating similar accusatory messaging to the public, via the NWJA email list and a press release sent to local media.
In NWJA’s opinion piece, Huntley and Owens also alleged that Lummi Nation leaders are proposing the elimination of existing Cherry Point industry jobs. They provided no evidence whatsoever to support such a claim.
As if it weren’t bad enough that NWJA submitted its defamatory op-ed for publication in a local newspaper, the Alliance launched a second strike aimed at Lummi Nation leadership the day before, by submitting a December 22 comment letter to the Whatcom County Planning Commission, on the currently ongoing Whatcom County Comprehensive Plan Update.
The comment letter was a slightly revised version of NWJA’s op-ed published in the Lynden Tribune, containing the same unsubstantiated accusations. NWJA’s inflammatory comment letter is now part of the official public comment record for the County Comprehensive Plan Update which the Whatcom County Council will review prior to voting on the final language to be included in the plan update. The fact that the Council is also one of the decision makers on permits needed by PIT for its GPT project makes NWJA’s comment letter “comprehensively” reprehensible.
GPT threatens Lummi treaty rights
GPT would be sited along the Salish Sea shoreline, at Xwe’chi’eXen, part of the Lummi Nation’s traditional fishing area. Xwe’chi’eXen is the Lummi peoples’ ancestral name for Cherry Point, an area which has a deep cultural, historic and spiritual significance to the Lummi people, as it was a village site for their ancestors for over 175 generations.
The projected coal export terminal threatens Lummi treaty rights, the salmon they depend on, their Schelangen (“Way of Life”), and the cultural integrity of Xwe’chi’eXen. LIBC Chairman Tim Ballew II sent a January 5, 2015 letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Seattle District Commander, Colonel John G. Buck, asking the agency to take immediate action to deny the GPT permit application.
In that letter, Chairman Ballew stated that the GPT project “will directly result in a substantial impairment of the treaty rights of the Lummi Nation throughout the Nation’s ‘usual and accustomed’ fishing areas.” Ballew also wrote that “The Lummi Nation is opposed to this project due to the cultural and spiritual significance of Xwe’chi’eXen, and intends to use all means necessary to protect it.” He added that the Lummi Nation has a sacred obligation to protect Xwe’chi’eXen based on that significance.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (“the Corps”) is the federal agency tasked with coordinating and handling the environmental review for the GPT project, and it is legally obligated to ensure that the Lummi Nation’s treaty rights are protected, and are not violated. Currently, the Corps is in the process of making a determination as to whether impacts to any tribes’ U&A (usual and accustomed) treaty fishing rights are more than de minimis, meaning too small or trivial to warrant legal review.
SSA Marine consultant Craig Cole, Director for NWJA
The Northwest Jobs Alliance (NWJA) was created to promote and advocate for the GPT project. For the first few years, NWJA consisted solely of a Facebook page, after that page had been created in May of 2011. NWJA’s original mission statement that had been displayed for years on its Facebook page read: “The Alliance focuses their efforts on supporting the Gateway Pacific Terminal. . .” For almost three years, NWJA’s Facebook page showed “www.gatewaypacificterminal.com” as its website address, and the phone number displayed had been a non-working number.
Several articles appeared in Whatcom County citizen-based publications during the summer and fall of 2014, criticizing the legitimacy of the NWJA and likening it to a front group, as it did not have a working phone number or a website other than the official GPT website. Subsequently, NWJA made some changes. In fall of 2014, the NWJA added a working phone number, created a website for its online presence, and changed its listed website address on its Facebook page from “gatewaypacificterminal.com” to “NWJA.org.”
Presently, the NWJA website states the following as its mission: “The Northwest Jobs Alliance (NWJA) promotes the growth of family-wage jobs in the context of sound environmental practice.” Also, there is no mention of GPT on the NWJA website’s Home page where the organization’s mission and focus are explained. Instead the general term “Cherry Point industrial area” is used.On October 23, 2014, NWJA was filed as a non-profit corporation, according to the Washington Secretary of State website. SSA Marine’s paid local consultant for the GPT project, Bellingham resident Craig Cole, is the listed Director for NWJA.
Since its inception, NWJA has had a steady turnover of co-chairs, all of whom have been very public advocates for the GPT project. Presently, Brad Owens is listed as NWJA President and John Huntley is listed as NWJA Chair. Huntley owns Mills Electric, a Bellingham electrical contracting company. Owens, a Bellingham resident, is the past President of the NW Washington Building & Construction Trades Council.
Some people confuse the “Northwest Jobs Alliance” for another similarly titled GPT advocacy organization called the “Alliance for Northwest Jobs and Exports.” It’s worthwhile to distinguish between the two, although promoting the GPT project has been the central intended purpose of both groups.
Cloud Peak Energy and BNSF govern Alliance for NW Jobs & Exports
The Alliance for Northwest Jobs and Exports (ANWJE) was first presented to the public as a grass-roots organization, when it was actually created in 2012, by Edelman, the world’s largest public relations firm, which was hired by SSA Marine to do public relations work for the proposed GPT project.
According to the Washington Secretary of State website, ANWJE was filed as a non-profit corporation in July 2012. The “Governing Persons” listed are Todd O’Hair and Zak Andersen. Todd O’Hair is currently Senior Manager, Government Affairs for Cloud Peak Energy Inc. which has a 49% stake in SSA Marine/PIT’s GPT project. Zak Andersen is presently Assistant Vice President, Community and Public Affairs for BNSF Railway. BNSF is the applicant for GPT’s interrelated Custer Spur project and would be the railway transporting coal mined in Montana and Wyoming to GPT. ANWJE’s website describes its group as a “non-profit trade organization that supports new export projects in Oregon and Washington State…”
BNSF Railway, SSA Marine, and Cloud Peak Energy are listed on the ANWJE’s membership list, which is comprised of companies and other entities which stand to benefit financially from the coal export terminal. So, this “non-profit trade organization” was created by the public relations firm hired by the GPT applicant, and it is governed by an employee of BNSF, the applicant for the interrelated Custer Spur project, and by an employee of Cloud Peak Energy, which has a 49% stake in SSA Marine/PIT’s GPT project.
NWJA’s attempt to drive public opinion against Lummi opposition to GPT
Whatcom Tea Party board member Kris Halterman hosts a local Whatcom County KGMI talk radio show, “Saturday Morning Live” (SML). On her September 12, 2015 SML show, Halterman hosted NWJA President Brad Owens, and together, they advanced an unsubstantiated, defamatory assertion that NWJA (the entity behind the Lynden Tribune op-ed) had previously purported in its August 20, 2015 letter to the Corps—that there is “an apparent motive behind the Lummi Nation’s opposition to the Gateway Pacific Terminal project (and completion of the EIS process) not connected with treaty rights.” [italicized emphasis theirs]
Joining in those activities against Lummi opposition to GPT, was the Political Action Committee SAVEWhatcom, headed up by Halterman, whose name pops up in most everything GPT-related. The SAVEWhatcom PAC was the vehicle for Gateway Pacific coal terminal interests to fund 2013 and 2014 local Whatcom County election political campaigns with over $160,000, which, if successful, would benefit those interests.
One month after the LIBC’s January 5, 2015 letter to the Corps, Halterman’s SAVEWhatcom placed a February 5 post on its Facebook page which disparaged the Lummi Nation and its Silver Reef Casino in what appeared to be an attempt to drive public opinion against the Lummi Nation’s strong oppositional stance to GPT.
Then, in an August 12, 2015 comment letter to the Whatcom County Planning Commission, NWJA seemed to pit “working families” who were characterized in the letter as “some of the very people who patronize Lummi enterprises”— against what was described as “tribal aspirations.” Echoing that previous tack of drawing attention to the Lummi Nation’s enterprises while at the same time denigrating the Nation with groundless claims, the NWJA referenced the Lummi Nation’s Silver Reef Casino in their December 23, 2015 Lynden Tribune op-ed. That excerpt read:
“And it saddens us to observe that the current leadership of the Lummi Nation has embarked upon a campaign against the working families of Whatcom County. These are some of the very families that patronize the Silver Reef Casino and other Lummi enterprises. Some thanks.”
Those specific repeated references to the Lummi Nation’s Silver Reef Casino and enterprises by SAVEWhatcom and the SSA Marine consultant-led NWJA, could be viewed as attempts to drive public opinion against the Lummi Nation’s Silver Reef enterprises—trying to change the minds of the Silver Reef’s loyal patrons who enjoy the hotel, spa, casino, entertainment/shows, multiple restaurants, convention and event venue, and more.
NWJA omits important statistics
NWJA’s December 23 opinion piece failed to mention that the Lummi Nation’s Silver Reef Hotel Casino & Spa employs 675 people. It also failed to mention any of the significant contributions from the Lummi Nation to Whatcom County’s community at large, which certainly have a positive impact on countless families and individuals in Whatcom County. For example, LIBC Chairman Tim Ballew stated in a May 2015 piece in The Bellingham Herald, that Lummi Nation was “humbled and honored to be able to give back to the people who work so hard to make our community thrive,” when referring to its Nation’s donations of over $600,000 awarded to 43 organizations. Some of those organizations include the Bellingham Food Bank, the Whatcom Literacy Council, and Whatcom County Fire District 8, to name a few.
NWJA stated in its December 23 op-ed and its December 22 comment letter to the County Planning Commission, that “Whatcom County ranks 30th out of 39 counties for personal income growth [Bellingham Herald 11/19/15].” In reading The Bellingham Herald article cited as a source for that statistic, NWJA did not bother to inform readers that while the per capita personal income average in Whatcom County increased 3.2% from 2013 to 2014, placing it 30th out of 39 counties in the state, Whatcom County’s 2014 per capita income total ranks 16th highest out of Washington’s 39 counties.
In its December 23 op-ed, and in its December 22 comment letter NWJA sent to the Planning Commission, Huntley and Owens referenced specific language from the December 10, 2015 comment letter from Lummi Nation’s Planning Department submitted to Whatcom County Planning and Development. The specific language was a new policy that Lummi Nation recommended be added to the County Comprehensive Plan:
“The shipment of coal, or crude oil, from any new shipping terminal or pier, or any existing terminal or pier, is prohibited.” Huntley and Owens said they were troubled by the Lummi Nation’s recommendation and wrote:
“This echoes previous requests that the Lummi have made to the County to begin phasing out the Cherry Point heavy industrial zone.” No evidence, however, was provided by the NWJA to show any previous, or even current, requests from Lummi Nation to begin phasing out the Cherry Point heavy industrial zone.
The underbelly of their reasoning
One particular statement NWJA made in its August 12, 2015 comment letter to the County Planning Commission revealed the underbelly of their reasoning:
“The Lummi occupy an important and unique role in our community, but they are just 1.5% of the County’s population.”
NWJA repeated similar statements in its August 27, 2015 email advertisement disseminated via its mailing list, and in its September 10, 2015 press release, potentially indicating to their audiences a reason to marginalize and dismiss Lummi Nation’s voice based on the Lummi’s minority population status.
Just as “Manifest Destiny” mandated that it was supposedly God’s providence that the U.S. should exercise hegemony over its neighbors—seeing North America as the new Promised Land, NWJA and the GPT corporate interests they advocate for, seem to believe that it’s their economic providence to exercise hegemony over the Lummi Nation—seeing Xwe’chi’eXen (Cherry Point) and its naturally occurring deep-water contours which allow for huge Capesize vessels stuffed with U.S. coal bound for Asia, as their new Promised Land.
The Lummi Nation, however, and countless people in the Pacific Northwest region, have a very different view of their destiny, and that view does not include the transporting, handling, and shipping of 48 million metric tons per year of coal to Asia, which is the plan for GPT.
Raising resentment of tribal treaty rights; encouraging the public and government officials to ignore tribal treaty rights; calling into question the motivation behind an Indian Nation’s exercising of its tribal treaty rights; interfering with the federal regulatory review process and the government to government relationship between a U.S. federal agency and Indian Tribes and Indian Nations; and making disparaging and unsubstantiated accusations against an Indian Nation and its leaders, are some of the various ways in which the Lummi Nation is being attacked as powerful corporations endeavor to realize their perceived manifest destinies, in pursuit of a coal export terminal at Xwe’chi’eXen.