Lummi Nation protest targets coal export terminals

The Pacific Northwest terminals would export millions of tons of coal annually to Asia.

August 24, 2015

PORTLAND, Ore. — A Native American tribe is taking a 22-foot (6.71-metre) totem pole through the western US and Canada in opposition to proposed terminals for exporting coal to Asia, saying the terminals would contaminate air and water and harm sacred sites.

A team from the Lummi Nation started the journey on Aug. 21, with stops planned in Vancouver and elsewhere.

The coal-export terminals in the Pacific Northwest would export millions of tons of coal annually to Asia.

Traditionally, totem poles use powerful symbols to depict visions, pass on tribal mythology or mark important tribal or family events, said the tribe’s master carver Jewell James. They’re used at ceremonies, to honour the deceased, or to record stories.

But over the past years, the tribe has put them to a novel use; tribal members have taken the totem poles off the reservation to areas struck by disaster or facing a crisis, as symbols of strength and wisdom, Jewell said.

The Lummi have delivered totem poles to New York, Pennsylvania and Washington, DC, after the September 2001 terrorist attacks. Last year, the tribe took a totem pole to Northern Alberta to oppose tar sand mining, and the previous year to Vancouver to protest a proposed oil pipeline.

The symbols carved into the current totem are to encourage wise decisions that protect the environment, Jewell said

“We’re all united as tribes in not wanting coal coming to our territory,” Jewell said.

Pacific International Terminals, the company that has proposed building the terminal at Cherry Point just south of the Canadian border, did not immediately return calls for comment.

Supporters say the projects would create jobs and generate revenue for local governments.

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