This is Xwe’chi’eXen — also known as Cherry Point.  Its lands and waters have sustained the Lummi people since before the exodus of Jews from Egypt, the foundation of Rome, the birth of Jesus Christ. 3,500 years — meaning that the bones of 140+ generations past rest in this place. Two-thirds of the Lummi people have ancestral roots tied to the reef net fishing people of Xwe’chi’eXen — ancestors who “witness[ed] the landscape transform as an Ice Age came and went, rivers and streams began to flow, salmon arrived and forests grew to provide shelter for all our relations.” [1]

This deep cultural heritage and the Lummi Peoples’ connection today to the spirits of their ancestors buried at Xwe’chi’eXen flat doesn’t matter to the profiteers of an extractive global economy.

For the past five years, Peabody Coal, Arch Coal, the Burlington-Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) Railroad (owned by Berkshire Hathaway), a Chinese State owned shipping corporation, and SSA Marine (the private corporation who would own and operate the proposed Gateway Pacific export terminal) have been making contracts and proposals to convert Xwe’chi’eXen into the largest coal export terminal in the United States.

Each ship of coal, on its way to China, would be the size of three football fields (1,100 ft), would weigh 287,000 deadweight tons, and would require six miles to come to a complete stop.

The road at Xwe’chi’eXen is already being washed away by high tides, with huge driftwood pieces lying right beside the vanishing asphalt. Climate change is already clearly visible in a place that is being targeted by fossil fuel profiteers to house international superhighways to climate chaos.

Lummi leaders have proclaimed that it is “our sacred obligation to honor our ancestors and the Creation, and therefore we… Oppose the Gateway Pacific Terminal project at Xwe’chi’eXen and the transport of fossil fuels that threaten the lands, waters and sacred sites in our traditional territories; and Declare the need to develop a more sustainable and responsible approach to meeting our present and future energy needs.” (From the Proclamation of Our Sacred Obligation, signed May 24, 2015). Rising sea levels from climate change stand to inundate at least 5,000 square acres of Lummi Nation land in the near future — this is about more than fishing rights to them. But in the end, it appears that treaty fishing rights are what will stop this gargantuan coal project from coming to pass.

In January 2015, the Army Corps of Engineers received a letter signed by the Lummi Business Council Chairman Tim Ballew II stating that the Gateway Pacific proposal violates tribal fishing rights established by the 1855 Treaty of Point Elliott for access to continue fishing in “usual and accustomed” areas. Over a year later, on May 9, 2016, the Army Corps released a 34-page decision memo that affirmed the terminal proposal cannot be permitted as it is proposed, due to its impact on Lummi fishing rights.

Chairman Ballew issued a statement saying “This is a historic victory for treaty rights and the Constitution. It is a historic victory for the Lummi Nation and our entire

Kurt Russo, PhD. (left), Commit2Respond Program
Manager Aly Tharp (center) & Jewell Praying
Wolf James (right) pose in front of a print
of the Proclamation of Our Sacred Obligation
in Lummi Sovereignty & Treaty Protection Office

region.” Kurt Russo, PhD. and Jewell James, of the Lummi Business Council’s Sovereignty and Treaty Protection Office are certainly joyed by this turn of events, but don’t feel that the struggle is over. “There is a silence — but it’s not a reassuring silence,” they say. There is still the chance that the coal interests will throw their weight and limited finances into a lawsuit or congressional legislative approach to sanctioning the terminal. Additionally, Xwe’chi’eXen is threatened by a proposal for an international LNG export pipeline.

Russo and James have spent the last five years organizing tenaciously to defend Xwe’chi’eXen from being desecrated for fossil fuel interests. In addition to working with the Business Council to present legal treaty arguments, Russo and James have been mounting a coalition and culture of resistance through totem pole journeys that are connecting organizations and communities in resistance to fossil fuel extraction. Jewell James has been making these totem poles as the Head Carver in the House of Tears Carvers. The totem poles are made by request from the Chiefs of other tribes, and are presented as gifts that symbolize unity and relationships of solidarity.

“The totem pole itself is not a sacred object. It’s something which facilitates a sacred gathering of people.” Jewell James explains (Whatcom Watch, by Rena Priest 9/15/13). The Unitarian Universalist faith community is a part of that. Russo and James are seeking our support for a culminating totem pole journey this August and September, with the totem pole being delivered as a gift to the Grand Chief and people of Winnepeg, Manitoba.

The goal of the journey is to “bring together, honor, and strengthen relations between tribes, NGO’s, the faith-based community, and civic leaders opposed to proposed fossil fuel export projects and lay a foundation for a broad-based alliance to press for action to address climate change.”

Last year, UUs at General Assembly participated in a Sacred Public Witness with representatives from the Lummi Nation, making a spiritual commitment to climate justice and partnership with communities on the frontlines of environmental destruction.

Following that act of public witness, Unitarian Universalists wrote letters to President Obama and donated almost $14,000 to a crowdfunding campaign for the totem pole journey. This initial funding success led to an additional $40,000 being raised in the five weeks before the journey began.

UUs participated along the 2015 totem pole journey, with ministers Rev. Kate Lore and Rev. Katherine Jesch in Portland, Rev. Carmen TenEyck-McDowell in Tulalip, Rev. Paul Beckel in Bellingham, and Rev. Todd Eklof in Spokane provided blessings to the totem pole (listen to Rev. Eklof’s blessing).

“We have to prepare for the worst, not the best,” says Russo, speaking to the critical moment that they are in with regards to their sacred obligation to protect Xwe’chi’eXen.

Take action in solidarity and sacred obligation with the Lummi Nation by boosting the Faithify fundraiser for the 2016 totem pole journey, and sharing this story. To follow the totem pole journey closely, keep an eye on and the Facebook page Our Shared Responsibility: a Totem Pole Journey.

[1] “Protecting Treaty Rights, Sacred Places, and Lifeways: Coal vs. Communities” Presented by Jewell James, Lummi Tribal Member and Head Carver, Lummi Tribe’s House of Tears Carvers, Print publication