KWEL HOY’ (“We Draw the Line”)
Reclaiming the Sacred and Protecting Xwe’chi’eXen from Coal
The House of Tears carvers of the Lummi community has created a tradition of carving and delivering totem poles to areas struck by disaster or otherwise in need of hope and healing. Now it is Lummi Nation’s own sacred landscape, Xwe’chi’eXen, that needs hope, healing and protection. The most imminent threat to this sacred landscape and to treaty rights associated with Xwe’chi’eXen comes from a proposal to build North America’s largest coal port: the Gateway Pacific Terminal.
The Kwel hoy’ Totem Pole journey, September 15-29, 2013, will start in the Powder River Basin and follow the coal train route through Indian Country, up to Xwe’chi’eXen. The journey will conclude in British Columbia, where the totem pole will be placed in the homeland of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation, demonstrating unity with the Canadian First Nations’ position opposing the transport of Tar Sands by pipelines across their territories. There, the totem pole will be met by Tribes and First Nations that have travelled from all direction. The Totem Pole will be placed as a means of reinforcing the message: Kwel hoy.’
The House of Tears Carvers and a team of support people and witnesses will accompany the Totem Pole on its 1,200 mile long journey. At each event, Tribal members, non-Tribal local citizens, elected officials, and the press will be invited to attend.
CONNECTING THE PEOPLES OF THE WEST
One primary goal of the journey is to connect tribal nations along the coal corridor. Tribal Nations innately understand and honor the need to protect sacred landscapes and treaty rights. Uniting the Tribal Nations is important for this particular issue and for Tribal communities that would be affected by coal transport and export.
The proposed coal rail line and port brings very different cultural communities together in a common cause. The proposal has unique ramifications not only for Tribal Nations, but also for communities all along the rail lines and shipping lanes that would be affected by coal export. Communities, commerce, livelihoods, public health, tourism, agriculture, fisheries, air and water safety, natural resources, quality of life would all be adversely impacted. In asking for blessings and strength from communities along the coal transportation corridor, the Kwel hoy’ Totem Pole brings together the Peoples of the West. People of many faiths can stand united in protecting the sacred, and people of many traditions can support honoring treaty rights and the traditional livelihoods they ensure. People from all affected communities can stand against this project.
by Jewell James (House of Tears Carvers)
Xwe’chi’eXen (Cherry Point) has deep spiritual and cultural significance to our people. It is a sacred landscape that includes ancient reef-net sites and a 3,500 year-old village site. Our Hereditary Chief of the Lummi Nation tsilixw (Bill James) describes it as the “home of the Ancient Ones.” It was the first site in Washington State to be listed on the Washington Heritage Register and is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.
If built, the Gateway Pacific Terminal at Cherry Point (Xwe’chi’eXen) in Washington State would be the largest coal export facility in North America. The mines are connected to the proposed port site by rail lines that run from Wyoming and Montana through Idaho, eastern Washington, along the Columbia River Gorge, and then up the coast of Puget Sound. Bulk cargo carriers would ship the coal through the Salish Sea to Asia.
The project will result in significant, unavoidable, and unacceptable interference with treaty rights and irreversible and irretrievable damage to Lummi spiritual values. As a result, the Lummi Nation in 2012 adopted a formal position to oppose the proposed project. As Lummi Councilman Jay Julius, in opposing the proposed coal port, has said, Kwel hoy’: “We draw the line.” This position was also adopted in 2013 by the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians.
Witnesses will document and publish (via this blog) photos, writings, sketches, and videos of both the journey and preparation for the journey when culturally appropriate. The blog will feature entries from Lummi Nation members and by people along the journey. Journalists, photographers and a documentary film crew will be invited along for the journey.