Protecting the Xwe’chi’eXen

Protest of coal train

Lhaq’temish, the Lummi People, are the original inhabitants of Washington state’s northernmost coast. They have the U.S.’s largest Native fishing fleet, and have fished off Xwe’chi’eXen (Cherry Point, Washington) for thousands of years.

The natives recently protested against terminals that would allow coal to be brought to the Pacific Coast from Montana and Wyoming that would ultimately be transported to China and the rest of Asia. They are concerned with a very real and potential threat of the transport systems affecting their health, natural resources and their economies. If the coal should spill, there is a possible injury to their religious and sacred sites. Moving millions of tons of coal through the region could affect road traffic and economic life on the reservations. Dust and particulate matter from the train and barges invoke environmental hazards.

Also, Pacific Northwest tribes’ fishing rights will be affected by the coal terminals. The tribes have a right to half the harvestable salmon, establishing tribal co-management of Washington State fisheries. Polluted waterways in Washington have already resulted in the lowest yield of salmon in about 40 years, and transporting coal by railway through these areas will yield even lower quantities of harvestable salmon.

The Lummi Nation is a part of the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians which requested that the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers perform a full environmental analysis of the six proposed shipping terminals along Oregon and Washington waterways.

The tribe’s mission is to protect the natural resources into perpetuity for the benefit of their community. The Chairman of the Lummi Nation stated “It is our Xw’xalk Xechnging [sacred duty] to preserve and protect all of Xwe’chi’eXen.”

Indigenous People’s Day, which is a counter-celebration to Columbus Day, was formed as a protest to the historical conquest of North America and to the demise of Native American people and culture. Indigenous people all over the world have been substantially impacted by the environmental hazards of industrialization while benefitting the least from industrial practices. Conversely, industry actors have been least effected by environmental threats and benefit the most from their practices.

Here, if the coal transport system is developed, the Lummi Nation will bear the burden of the environmental degradation cause by the coal terminals. In stark contrast, the coal industry actors will profit and hardly feel the impact of the environmental hazards within their own lives and communities.