Gathering at Lummi Nation on Monday, they feasted on seafood caught in local waters, cheering victories and looking for more, including over the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion.
LUMMI NATION, Whatcom County — With prayer and song and a feast from their treaty-protected waters, the Lummi Nation convened a celebration here Monday night for victories at Cherry Point and Standing Rock, and the preservation of Indian lands, waters and ways of life.
Col. John G. Buck, commander of the Seattle District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, was honored with the gift of a hand-woven traditional blanket, a high honor in Indian Country. The Corps last May blocked development of the largest coal port in North America at Cherry Point, near Bellingham, to protect the Lummi Nation’s treaty-protected fishing rights.
Also honored was Hilary Franz, the newly elected commissioner of the state Department of Natural Resources. The department manages lands and waters across the state and is working to permanently protect the waters at Cherry Point from industrial development.
“Words cannot express our gratitude,” said Tribal Chairman Tim Ballew, as Buck and Franz stood with tribal fishermen, also honored with blankets for their role in the court case against Cherry Point.
- Background stories: Here's a primer on the pipeline project, including the key players on all sides, a brief history of broken treaty promises and a closer look at the courtroom battle. And here's what we're reading related to the controversy.
- March 28: What the completed Dakota Access pipeline means for key players.
- Feb. 23: Dakota Access Pipeline protest camp closed; 46 holdouts arrested.
- Feb. 22: Preparing to leave, Standing Rock protesters ceremonially burn camp.
- Feb. 13: Judge rejects tribes’ bid to halt Dakota Access Pipeline; feds plan to shut down protest camp.
- Feb. 1: Hundreds rally as the Seattle City Council considers divesting from Wells Fargo because of its role as a Dakota Access Pipeline lender.
- Jan. 24, 2017: Donald Trump signs executive orders advancing the Keystone and Dakota Access pipelines. The Standing Rock Sioux tribe says it will push back.
- Dec. 4, 2016: Tribes celebrate as Corps rejects Dakota Access pipeline easement
- Nov. 21: Washington tribes urge that Obama stop, reroute Dakota Access Pipeline
- Nov. 12: Hundreds rally in Tacoma against Dakota Access Pipeline
- Live updates from from Seattle Times journalists on the scene Oct. 26, 27 and 28.
- Oct. 25: Tribes in Washington state call on President Obama to improve federal consultations over infrastructure projects
- Oct. 24: Citing treaty claim, protesters occupy land a rancher recently sold to pipeline developer Energy Transfer Partners.
- See photos from the Dakota Access Pipeline protests.
That victory, gained with support from tribes across the Northwest, was a spark that helped inspire and encourage opponents of the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota. The Corps’ national office on Sunday announced it would not issue the final easement needed by Energy Transfer Partners of Texas to tunnel under the Missouri River and complete the pipeline through four states.
Leaders of the Tulalip, Spokane and Yakama Nations also joined the celebration, which featured clam chowder, fresh crabs, oysters and salmon, all caught by Lummi fishermen from local waters. Fire-roasted on sticks, the fish was succulent, crimson and delicious like no other food, just one reason for the joy in the hall.
“It’s a milestone,” Bill James, traditional chief of the Lummi Nation, said of the victory at Standing Rock and Cherry Point before it. “It’s so huge. It’s preserving who we are as a people,” James said. “What we are really talking about is preservation of our way of life. It’s also protecting our ancestors, and their final resting place.”
Children and youth in traditional regalia performed tribal dances as tribal members cracked open steamed crab legs. Tim Ballew, chairman of the Lummi Nation, took in the scene.
“The significance of this is how treaty rights shape and have continued to shape all of America,” Ballew said. Washington tribes are fighting fossil-fuel projects around the state to preserve fisheries and sacred sites.
The hope expressed now among many here was that the victory would stick at Standing Rock, hard won by thousands of opponents encamped by the Cannonball River near the proposed river crossing, now in bitter cold. “We hope it turns to cement,” said James, the Lummi traditional chief. “We hope it is strong as a rock.”
Energy Transfer Partners on Monday issued a statement vowing to complete the pipeline project, in the same crossing area, basically as if nothing had ever happened.
Rumors that the company was going to drill despite the Corps’ ruling flew around the protest camp and the country. But no drilling is going on, according to law-enforcement officials in North Dakota.
The work that remains is major. Michels Corporation, the contractor on the drilling project — and a major contractor for Sound Transit — has estimated it will take 60 to 90 days to complete the river crossing under ideal conditions. Whether that will ever happen, or where, is now under a new round of consideration.
Jan Hasselman, attorney with Earth Justice of Seattle representing the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, said the environmental-impact statement now required by the Corps can’t be brushed aside by an incoming Trump administration, as some have suggested. If the new president seeks to cancel the environmental review, the tribe will go to court to insist on it.
Candice Wilson, a former councilwoman at Lummi Nation now on the Ferndale School Board, said she felt the presence of the tribe’s ancestors at the table Monday night. “They are living through the work we do, and our work will continue. It is continuing on, into the next generation.”
Many tribal leaders addressed the crowd first in their native language. JoDe Goudy, chairman of the Yakama Nation — which defeated a coal port on the Columbia River — warned that while Monday night was for celebration, harder battles will surely lie ahead.
“We do this for what is before you, the foods on these tables,” DeGoudy said. “Drinking water that is clean. Without these we cease to exist as a people. As we are able to shoot these fossil-fuel proposals down, they will rise again. And we will need to remember who we are and where we come from. And the fight will continue on.”