JoDe Goudy, chairman of the Yakama Nation, calls on the Federal Government to deny permits for the Gateway Pacific Coal Terminal at a gathering of tribal leaders from around the Northwest, British Columbia and Montana.

JoDe Goudy, chairman of the Yakama Nation, calls on the Federal Government to deny permits for the Gateway Pacific Coal Terminal at a gathering of tribal leaders from around the Northwest, British Columbia and Montana.

Ashley Ahearn

Native American leaders gathered Thursday in Seattle to draw attention to the ongoing battle between tribes from British Columbia and around the Northwest, and the companies that want to export coal and oil to Asia.

Leaders from the Lummi, Spokane, Quinault, Yakama, Tulalip, Northern Cheyenne, Swinomish and Tsleil-Waututh First Nation of British Columbia gathered at the Ballard Locks in Seattle to call on the Army Corps of Engineers to deny permits for the Gateway Pacific Terminal, which could be built near the Canadian border.

As the fight over Shell Oil’s Arctic drilling rig escalates in Seattle, leader after leader talked about the threats posed by fossil fuel extraction, transport and combustion to their native lands and way of life - from tar sands oil pipelines in British Columbia, to coal mining in Montana, to coal ships in Puget Sound.

Their message was clear: The government needs to respect indigenous rights.

“We, the gathered leaders here today, are stepping up to make a stand on behalf of what is right, in the hopes that these words are going to find the ears, the heart and the mind of decision makers,” said JoDe Goudy, chairman of the Yakama Nation of Washington. The Yakama protested a coal terminal proposed to be built on the Columbia River near Boardman, OR on the basis that it would threaten the tribe’s treaty fishing areas.

The Army Corps has denied permits for that project, but has yet to make a decision about the larger Gateway Pacific Coal Terminal.

“Because these people are incapable of making decisions for their own future generations, we will,” said Rueben George, chief of the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation of British Columbia, which is protesting KinderMorgan’s plans to transport oil from Alberta via pipeline to the B.C. coast. 

The Lummi Tribe has called on the Army Corps of Engineers to halt the review of the Gateway Pacific Terminal on the grounds that it will disrupt tribal treaty fishing areas, as the Yakama argued on the Columbia. The Corps asked for further documentation of impacts to the Lummi’s fishing area, which the tribe provided. If the Corps does not deny the permits, “It will be a breach of treaty,” said Lummi Chairman Tim Ballew II.

In an email, Corps spokeswoman Patricia Graesser said, “We take our trust responsibility seriously and will ensure we make a determination with the most accurate, complete information. There is no deadline, however we are intent on a timely and deliberate process.”