2013 Totem Pole Journey: The Tribes

The proposed coal export projects would affect Native American communities all along the transportation corridor.  Mining, hauling and shipping coal would damage culturally and spiritually important landscapes, traditional livelihoods and lifeways, and, by damaging ecosystems and fishing grounds, would impinge on treaty rights. In May, 2013, the 57 tribes of the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians, unanimously adopted a resolution entitled “Opposing the Proposals for the Transportation and Export of Fossil Fuels in the Pacific Northwest.”

Sacred Lands and Waters

The Advisory Council on Historic Preservation promotes the preservation, enhancement, and sustainable use of our nation’s diverse historic resources, and advises the President and the Congress on national historic preservation policy.

The Friends Committee on National Legislation provides an overview on Protecting Religious Freedom and Sacred Sites: “In 1978, a congressional report found that state and federal laws continued to hamper and interfere with Native American religious practices. Later that year the U.S. Congress passed the American Indian Religious Freedom Act (AIRFA) ending the dark era of American history that provided no protection for native religions and failed to recognize the suffering of native religious practitioners. The law underscored and extended the basic constitutional principle of freedom of religion to Native Americans. AIRFA “protects and preserves the inherent right of freedom of belief, expression, and exercise of traditional religions…including but not limited to access to sites, use and possession or sacred objects, and the freedom to worship through ceremonials and traditional rites.” AIRFA is a foundational piece of legislation, but doesn’t include a penalty section giving Native Americans a mechanism to redress infringements on their freedom of religion. Fortunately, stronger legislation like the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA adds needed protections for native religions).”

The American Indian Religious Freedom Act, passed in 1978 and amended once, requires the federal government and agencies to respect and protect the customs, ceremonies and traditions of Native American religions. Excerpted from http://www.cr.nps.gov/local-law/fhpl_IndianRelFreAct.pdf below:

“This Act became law on August 11, 1978 (Public Law 95-341, 42 U.S.C. 1996 and 1996a) and has been amended once. The description of the Act, as amended, tracks the language of the United States Code except that (following common usage) we refer to the “Act” (meaning the Act, as amended) rather than to the “subchapter” or the “title” of the Code.

Section 1: On and after August 11, 1978, it shall be the policy of the United States to protect and preserve for American Indians their inherent right of freedom to believe, express, and exercise the traditional religions of the American Indian, Eskimo, Aleut, and Native Hawaiians, including but not limited to access to sites, use and possession of sacred objects, and the freedom to worship through ceremonials and traditional rites.

Section 2: The President shall direct the various Federal departments, agencies, and other instrumentalities responsible for admin- istering relevant laws to evaluate their policies and proce- dures in consultation with native traditional religious lead- ers in order to determine appropriate changes necessary to protect and preserve Native American religious cultural rights and practices. Twelve months after August 11, 1978, the President shall report back to Congress the results of his evaluation, including any changes* which were made in administrative policies and procedures, and any recommendations he may have for legislative action.

*One of the changes in administrative policy and procedure was Executive Order 13007, Indian Sacred Sites.”

from the National Park Service website devoted to NAGPRA: “The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act is a Federal law passed in 1990. NAGPRA provides a process for museums and Federal agencies to return certain Native American cultural items — human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects, or objects of cultural patrimony — to lineal descendants, and culturally affiliated Indian tribes and Native Hawaiian organizations. NAGPRA includes provisions for unclaimed and culturally unidentifiable Native American cultural items, intentional and inadvertent discovery of Native American cultural items on Federal and tribal lands, and penalties for noncompliance and illegal trafficking. In addition, NAGPRA authorizes Federal grants to Indian tribes, Native Hawaiian organizations, and museums to assist with the documentation and repatriation of Native American cultural items, and establishes the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Review Committee to monitor the NAGPRA process and facilitate the resolution of disputes that may arise concerning repatriation under NAGPRA.

The excavation and inadvertent discovery provisions of NAGPRA apply only to Federal and tribal lands. Under NAGPRA, tribal lands are lands (including private lands) within the exterior boundaries of an Indian reservation. If the burial ground is not on Federal or tribal land, then the excavation and inadvertent discovery provisions of NAGPRA do not apply. However, other State and Federal cultural preservation laws may apply, and State or local cemetery laws may also apply.”

California Sacred Sites Protection: http://www.sacredsitesca.org/
Sacred Land Film Project: http://www.sacredland.org/ FCNL highly recommends a film entitled “In Light of Reverence” available at this site.

Fishing & Treaty Rights

“An understanding of the right to take fish reserved by the tribes is important in part because it continues to inform tribes’ aspirations for and entitlements to a future in which their exercise of this right is robust, and tribal members’ consumption and use of the resources on which they have historically depended is restored. The venues for tribes’ efforts to stem depletion and contamination of the fish, to restore crucial habitats, and to ensure resilience in the face of a changing climate are many. Among other things, tribes have worked to address water quality, seeking to clean up and prevent toxicants that are harmful to the fish and to all who depend on the fish for food.” This quotation is from “Fishable Waters,” an article by Catherine O’Neill in the Spring 2013 issue of American Indian Law Journal.

Treaties are considered to be “the supreme law of the land,” with the same power as acts of Congress, according to Article VI, paragraph 2, of the United States Constitution.

The Treaty of Point Elliot was signed in 1855 by various tribes in the Puget Sound / Salish Sea region. Signatories included representatives from Lummi, Skagit, Swinomish, Snoqualmie, Suquamish, Duwamish among others. In exchange for land, the U.S. government promised money, reservations, health care, schools, and rights to fish, harvest and hunt in “usual and accustomed grounds.”

The Boldt Decision of 1974 further affirmed fishing rights, and stated that treaty tribes had a right to half of all harvestable fish.

In an editorial for The Seattle Times, Nisqually tribal member Billy Frank Jr explains how the Treaty obligates the U.S. Government to protect fisheries and salmon habitat.  There is substantial evidence that fisheries connected to Xwe’chi’eXen would be adversely impacted by the transport, storage and shipping proposed for Cherry Point (the Gateway Pacific Terminal).

The Sovereignty and Treaty Protection Office (STPO) was established to protect the sovereignty of the Lummi Nation through comprehensive and coordinated strategic preparedness and rapid response capabilities. The Lummi Nation, in protecting its treaty rights, has taken a “No” position on the proposed coal port at Cherry Point / Xwe’chi’eXen. STPO may be contacted through their website, or by phone at 360-961-4554.

Coast Salish Gathering 

The Coast Salish peoples’ sacred inherent right is to restore, preserve and protect our shared environment and natural resources in our ancestral homelansds – the Salish Sea.

The Coast Salish Gathering is a policy dialogue for Coast Salish Chairs, Chiefs and their Council as well as Federal, State and Provincial Regional Directors and their executive staff only. Reports and video of the proceedings will be posted to http://www.coastsalishgathering.com for the public. The Gathering’s purpose will be to discuss and develop a shared position report on the health of the Salish Sea ecosystem and the environmental impacts upon the human health and aboriginal and treaty rights to harvest natural resources.

A new webpage on the transport and export of U.S. Energy, including coal, is available at http://www.csgcoal.sqsp.com for tribal leaders and staff. Sponsored by the Coast Salish Gathering and Association of Washington Tribes.

Protecting Treaty Rights Sacred Places and LifeWays