Friday, September 6, 2013

Sacred Lands, Sacred Waters

Written by Jessica Zimmerle
Outreach Coordinator for Earth Ministry
Dear friends,

What is sacred?

Jay Julius began by asking the faith community to ponder the nature of sacredness at Wednesday's Earth Ministry event, Sacred Lands, Sacred Waters.  The Lummi Nation Coucilmember went on to explain that, for him and his people, Xwe'che'eXen, or Cherry Point, is their home and it is very much sacred.  This site has at least a 3,500 year archeologically verified history belonging to the Lummi people, and is sacred burial grounds where the members of the Lummi Nation today feel a strong connection to their living ancestors.  Not only is the land sacred, but the waters are as well.  The burial grounds expand beyond the land of Xwe'che'eXen because, as Jay passionately explained, far too many of his ancestors died of smallpox in these waters.  Cherry Point is also the site of the first first reef-net fishing, which is central to Lummi religion, culture, and livelihood.  To put in into perspective, Julius stated that Cherry Point is comparable to Jerusalem, the Jordan River, or Arlington National Cemetery. 

These sacred lands and sacred waters are being threatened by North America's largest proposed coal export terminal, SSA Marine's Gateway Pacific Terminal.  48 million tons of coal mined from the Powder River Basin in Montana and Wyoming would be transported on approximately 18 one and a half mile long trains every day.  Coal cars must remain uncovered, causing each car to lose about 500 pounds of coal dust en route.  The environmental and health-related risks of such an endeavor are vast and people have spoken up against the terminal in public hearings with the Army Corps of Engineers, which has resulted in a broadly scoped environmental impact statement of the project. 

The Lummi are already encountering environmental degradation at Cherry Point.  After 52 documented spills at Cherry Point, 92% of the herring are gone and those that are caught are 1 inch smaller, some even have two heads.  Crabs are molting early and the Lummi were not able to fish for Sockeye Salmon this year, a fish sacred to them.  On land, two springs are dry after construction for the terminal was initiated without a permit in 2011 and damaged wetlands.

We must do more to remedy this situation and support the Lummi's sacred site and treaty rights to fishing in their usual and accustomed places.  At maximum build out, this project would provide 242 jobs, while the livelihood of at least 1,000 Lummi fishermen would be destroyed.  Ultimately, construction of the Gateway Pacific Terminal would result in devastation of a way of life that would destroy an entire culture. 

In 1987 and again in 1997 8 major denominations of the Christian community apologized for the mistreatment of Native People in the Pacific Northwest and pledged to stand by them in the future.  It is time for the faith community to "walk your talk" as Jewell James put it, and take action on this issue.  The Lummi leaders have specifically requested that people of faith contact Senator Maria Cantwell, who is the Chair of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, in defense of their treaty rights. It would be extremely influential and much appreciated for you to contact Senator Cantwell and advocate for the Lummi.

Phone: (206) 220-6400
or email Sally Hintz, Sen. Cantwell's Northwest Regional Directory:

Another opportunity to support the Lummi Nation is to participate in their upcoming Totem Pole Journey.  Jewell James is a Master Carver who has created a beautiful totem pole that will travel the entire path of the coal train tracks to be blessed and raise awareness of their situation.  Earth Ministry is hosting a stop on September 25 at St. Leos Church in Tacoma.  Please see or our website for more information.

Jay shared a wonderful metaphor to describe the situation: if you know your roof has a hole in it, do not wait for a storm to fix it.  As people of faith, we strive for justice and peace by helping our neighbors and treating all as equals.  It is our task to do so now as there is absolutely no justification for the Lummi to compromise their treaty rights nor the foundation of their spiritual lifeway.  

In peace,

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