In an unusually harsh public scolding, Washington tribal leaders unloaded on Gov. Jay Inslee Friday for his veto this week of a section of a carbon-cap bill that required improved consultation with tribes about climate investments made under the act.
Inslee said the bill required tribal consent for some climate projects involving their interest, which differs from the current approach, and does “not properly recognize the mutual, sovereign relationships between tribal governments and the state.”
That earned him an unprecedented dressing down from tribal leaders and some state Democratic legislative leaders in a joint news release Friday.
It started right at the top, with Fawn Sharp, president of the National Congress of American Indians, which represents 500 tribes across the country. Sharp, vice president of the Quinault Indian Nation, is known for her expertise on climate-change politics as much as her eloquence and diplomacy. But hers was no quiet behind-the-scenes expression of displeasure.
“This week, Jay Inslee committed the most egregious and shameless betrayal of a deal I have ever witnessed from a politician of any party, at any level,” Sharp said in the release sent by Jaime Martin, executive director of governmental affairs and special projects for the Snoqualmie Tribe.
Sharp continued, “After using and exploiting Tribal Nation’s political capital to pass his climate bill, Jay Inslee made the cowardly decision on the day of the bill’s signing to ambush Tribal leaders by suddenly vetoing all Tribal consultation requirements and all protections for Native American sacred sites and burial grounds that his office and the State Legislature had negotiated as a condition of the bill’s passage. Jay Inslee will be mercilessly judged by history long after Indigenous Peoples triumph over his petty veto and continue to lead the world’s fight against climate change.
“The only thing I will ever agree with Donald Trump about is that Jay Inslee is a snake,” Sharp concluded.
Mike Faulk, spokesperson for Inslee, said Friday in an email that the provision the governor chose to veto “was written so broadly that would have made it possible to challenge just about any related project anywhere in the state.”
What was not mentioned, Faulk continued, was the number of provisions for tribes that were still in the bill the governor signed. In addition, many state agencies have their own mandates as to tribal consultation, as do other state policies and federal laws.
But none of that appeared to mollify tribal leaders on Friday.
Robert de los Angeles, chairman of the Snoqualmie Tribe, also took the unusual step of publicly dressing down the governor in terms seldom used in cultures in which trust, negotiation and relationships are paramount. “To plainly speak the truth, Gov. Inslee used, exploited and betrayed Tribal Nations in order to pass his climate change bill,” de los Angeles said in the news release.
“The fact that this betrayal is occurring regarding protections for something as important as burial grounds and sacred sites is offensive beyond description. This will be a permanent stain on his record.”
Leonard Forsman, chairman of the Suquamish Tribe, also criticized the veto this week.
Leaders in the governor’s own party also broke with Inslee over the veto, including state Sen. Kevin Van De Wege, D-Sequim, chairman of the Senate Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources & Parks committee. “Gov. Inslee broke trust with Washington’s Tribes in a way that complicates and damages dialogue with tribes statewide,” he said in the news release.
Rep. Mike Chapman, D-Port Angeles, chairman of the House Rural Development, Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, said “I was shocked and embarrassed,” in the release, adding, “those actions do not reflect Washington’s values.”
Inslee has said he would convene tribal leaders to negotiate new bill language to replace the vetoed provision. But Sharp swatted that away Friday.
“I will not participate in any process that validates Inslee’s delusional belief that he has authority of sovereign tribes or speaks for the Washington state Legislature or Washington state voters,” she said in the release.
The controversy continued to grow as word of the veto spread to key tribal staff and elected officials charged with sustaining the roots, medicinal plants, wildlife and fish at the heart of tribal cultures.
Those are threatened by an alternative-energy boom underway in the state if it is not carefully managed to honor tribal hunting, fishing and gathering rights that are protected by treaty, said Elaine Harvey, a member of the Rock Creek band of the Yakama Nation and a tribal fish biologist.
“It’s just kind of escalating and getting larger,” she said of the rush of solar-energy development underway, much of it targeted to ceded lands the Yakama people rely on for gathering medicinal plants and roots that have no analogue in grocery stores.
“We are 14 different bands in the Yakama Nation that gather foods throughout this area,” she added.
Jeremy Takala, a member of the Yakama tribal council, noted that his elders have already fought to protect access to fishing sites in the Columbia River, with some even going to prison defending their right to fish.
Gathering rights for roots and medicinal plants are just as important, Takala said and must be protected as the state enters a phase of intense alternative-energy development.
Tribes were counting on the language in the energy bill to protect their treaty gathering rights, Takala said, which are just as important as salmon harvest in the river.
“Is this next go round going to be now for our medicines and our roots and our sacred sites and cultural sites?” Takala said. “I feel like that is the direction this may be going.”