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Faith, environment groups align in solidarity with indigenous people

The faith and environmental communities, which have been in solidarity with the Lummi Nation to challenge the proposed location of the Gateway Pacific Terminal coal export facility at Xwe’chi’eXen, also known as Cherry Point, Wash., celebrate that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers decided in May to deny permits needed to build the terminal.

The decision upholds treaty rights and honors the U.S. government’s commitments to the treaties.

The Northwest bishops and denominational executives have a commitment to solidarity with the region’s tribes on that and other environmental and treaty issues.

Jessie Dye – Earth Ministry

“This win is a testament to the power and leadership of the Lummi Nation and the dedication of supporters, concerned families, health professionals, business leaders, tribes, communities and elected leaders who helped make this happen,” said Jessie Dye of Earth Ministry.

“We celebrate this landmark victory but we are not done.  We will continue to fight until our communities are no longer threatened by dangerous coal export proposals,” she said.  “Specifically, we will leave no stone unturned in our opposition to Millennium Bulk Logistics in Longview and the Fraser Surrey project in British Columbia.”

Mike Petersen – Lands Council

Also commenting, Mike Petersen of The Lands Council in Spokane, a member of the Power Past Coal Coalition, is grateful to the Lummi Nation and local people who have worked since 2013 to stop the proposal.

“Because Spokane would receive the rail traffic for this facility and others, stopping these facilities is vital to stopping fossil fuel. We look forward to working on clean, renewable energy proposals,” he said.

Jace Bylenga – Beyond Coal

A public hearing was held May 26 in Spokane on a proposed Longview terminal.

“In a desperate attempt to save their crumbling industry and protect their bottom lines, the world’s largest coal companies want to send millions of tons of coal through our communities every day to ports on our coast,” said Jace Bylenga, associate organizing representative for the Beyond Coal Campaign. “Millennium Bulk Logistics wants to build the largest coal export terminal in North America in Longview. It would threaten our health, safety, air and water, leaving us with little to no benefit.

“Coal trains already disrupt our communities and local economy. More coal exports mean more air and water pollution, more traffic, and more toxic spills,” he said.  “If the companies get their way, they’ll send 44 million metric tons of coal through Longview every year. That would bring 16 dirty coal trains through Spokane County and surrounding communities every day. Just one accident would be devastating.”

The Power Past Coal Campaign urges people to tell the Army Corps of Engineers to reject the Longview terminal, Jace said.

Faith community’s solidarity

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Bishop Martin Wells works to oppose the coal terminals because of the commitment of Northwest bishops and denominational executives made in a letter of apology to the indigenous people in 1987.  They renewed their commitment in 1997 and 2007, when Martin first signed on.  The faith leaders will renew that commitment again in 2017.

The faith leaders acknowledge the historical disrespect of traditional Native American spiritual practices and traditions, and promise “to honor and defend the rights of Native Peoples,” including “access to and protection of sacred sites” and working to “end political and economic injustice against tribal communities.”

In 2014, as part of the Totem Pole Journey from coal mines in Wyoming and Montana to Cherry Point, Lummi leaders invited faith leaders to a commitment in face of the threat to native peoples from mining, transport, burning and disposal of fossil fuels, and its impact on climate change.

The proposed coal export terminals would damage native fisheries protected by treaties and would poison air and water.

Coal trains serving terminals would cut across lands sacred to indigenous peoples, and impact the health of those communities.

Martin and Episcopal Bishop Jim Waggoner, Jr., of Spokane, and church leaders across the state promised to stand with the tribes to defend their lands and fishing rights.  Martin and Jim signed a statement in 2014 in Spokane on the grounds of the Episcopal Cathedral of Spokane. 

“It’s hard to make up for past wrongs, but this was one way in the present day we can offer support,” said Martin, who keeps the Synod Council informed of his advocacy.

He also sees his involvement with local tribes and the Center for Environmental Law and Policy (CELP) on the Columbia River Treaty as part of his commitment, too.  

“Our Synod territory includes most of the Columbia and Snake River Watersheds.  That geography itself offers a call on my life as bishop of this synod,” he said. 

In 2014, he participated in an educational forum at Gonzaga University on renewal of the Columbia River Treaty.  Two months ago, there was another conference in Boise with Shoshone-Bannock Tribes on the Fort Hall Indian Reservation in Idaho, advocating for fisheries and salmon restoration as part of relicensing the Hells Canyon dams.

For Martin, challenging coal transport and terminals, and his work on the Columbia River Treaty are part of his environmental consciousness, awakened in college and by his growing recognition of the interdependence of life and the need for harmony between human inhabitants and nature.

Martin knows the decision by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to deny the permit to develop a coal terminal at Cherry Point is not the end of the story, and there’s more for the faith community to consider.

“It’s not a good day for the coal industry.  The mining company in Wyoming that was going to send coal by rail has filed for bankruptcy protection because the price of coal is low,” he said.  “We must also remember that hundreds and thousands of people in the coal industry will lose their livelihoods.

“We must address global warming. Through history, there were other times the nation had to walk away from an economic asset because of a deeper cause,” Martin said.

As religious leaders call for the protection of life and the Earth, they remind people to love their neighbors, standing in solidarity with Native neighbors to safeguard the traditional lands, water and sacred sites from destruction, and being cognizant of those who will need to find new ways to earn a living, Martin said.

For information, call Jessie at (206) 632-2426, Mike at 838-4912, Jace at 209-2385 or Martin at 838-9871 or email

Copyright © June 2016 - The Fig Tree