2014 Seattle, Washington Blessing Stop

Friday, 29 August, 10:30 am
St. Marks Cathedral on Capitol Hill, 1245 10th Avenue East.

Seattle500 Warrior up in Seattle!

The cornerstone of northwest Native American art, the totem pole, became a cross-cultural rallying point this morning, as an overflow crowd of more than 400 people welcomed the 19-foot totem to Saint Mark’s Cathedral. The event marks the halfway point of a 2,500-mile binational journey by members of the Lummi Nation to demonstrate the strength and diversity of opposition to a proposal by Gateway Pacific Terminals that would locate North America’s largest coal terminal at Xwe’chi’eXen, the Lummi name for Cherry Point, near Bellingham.

The journey comes just one week after Oregon denied a crucial permit for Ambre Energy’s proposed coal export facility at Boardman. In its decision, the Oregon Department of State Lands cited impacts to a small but important and long-standing Columbia River tribal fishery.

“The state of Oregon recognized that tribal sovereignty and treaty fishing rights must be considered in coal export decisions,” said Jewell James, Lummi elder and House of Tears master carver. “We expect the Washington state Department of Ecology to make the same considerations for Xwe’chi’eXen. Coal exports would devastate our fishery and threaten non-tribal fisheries, as well as damage one of our most important cultural sites.”

The Seattle event featured remarks from King County Executive Dow Constantine and a welcome by Ken Workman of the Duwamish Tribe in Lushootseed, the language of the Salish people. All in attendance were invited to join in blessing the 19-foot western redcedar totem pole.

The unusual juxtaposition of a totem and Christian church results from an unprecedented alliance between tribal nations and faith leaders around coal exports. Recently, 10 of Washington’s bishops and denominational executives signed a formal letter of support for the Lummi’s totem pole journey.

“Standing in protection of God’s creation is a deep and holy obligation that native tribes and faith leaders both share,” said LeeAnne Beres, Executive Director of Earth Ministry/Washington Interfaith Power & Light. “The biblical mandate of stewardship is similar to the Native value of looking ahead seven generations when making decisions in the present. Coal export will destroy Native fisheries from day one, and burning coal overseas will poison all the Earth’s atmosphere and acidify our oceans right here in Washington.  Religious people, tribes, and community members share a love of the beautiful and abundant region God has given us to call home, and we will together defend its well-being from destruction for profit by a few.”

The totem pole journey is being made in honor of the life of environmental leader and treaty rights activist Billy Frank, Jr. It began on August 22 in South Dakota, then traveled through Montana and Washington, reaching hundreds of tribal and non-tribal community members. The journey will continue into Canada, making several stops before raising the totem on September 7 at the Beaver Lake Cree Nation, which has been devastated by pollution from Canada’s tar sands.

In addition to the totem, the team travels with a mural for event attendees to paint and a letter of support from Lummi Indian Business Council Chairman Timothy Ballew II, which states: “We will stop the development of the export terminal and put in its place a plan that honors our shared responsibility to the land and waters of Xwe’chi’eXen and all our relations.”

Coal exports also pose risks to Northwest fisheries in Longview, Wash., where Ambre Energy’s subsidiary, Millennium Bulk Terminals, plans to locate another coal export facility along the ecologically sensitive Columbia River. Like the Boardman and Bellingham proposals, Longview faces fierce opposition from tribal and non-tribal communities. Coal exports have faced community opposition across the Pacific Northwest for nearly four years. Thousands of health professionals, businesses, local electeds, families and communities have stood up against these proposals every step of the way, from mine to rail and port to plant.

“It is really foolish, bordering on madness, to dig up a big chunk of North America, tie up traffic on the way through, and then ship that off to another country so they can bury us economically,” said Executive Constantine, chair of the Safe Energy Leadership Alliance that is united in opposition to the shipment of coal and oil by train through our region for export. “I stand with the Lummi Nation and all those in the Pacific Northwest who are working to protect our air, our water, and our fisheries.”

James has contributed totem poles for significant events before, beginning with a commemorative totem to memorialize victims of the 2011 World Trade Center attacks.

“The totem in and of itself is not sacred,” James said. “It becomes sacred when people come together and unite for the cause it represents. We are standing with Washington’s faith leaders today to tell Gateway Pacific Terminals that the peoples of the Pacific Northwest will not accept environmental and economic destruction for their company’s profits.”

Photos by James Leder