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Hundreds Gather to Oppose North America's Largest Coal Terminal

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The cornerstone of Northwest Native American art, the totem pole, served as both inspiration and rallying point this week when more than 250 residents of Whatcom and Skagit Counties in Washington state, both tribal and non-tribal, gathered at the Lummi Nation to launch the totem pole journey. The focus of the event was the announcement by six major Christian churches in the Pacific Northwest that they would join the fight to block North America’s largest coal terminal at Xwe’chi’eXen, the Lummi name for Cherry Point.

Following the remarks of speakers, members of the crowd were invited to join in blessing the 19-foot red cedar totem pole, which ultimately will be presented to First Nations battling tar sands proposals in their homelands of northern Alberta. Photo credit: Paul Anderson

“I am honored to be here to speak for the promises that need to be kept, and our promises yet to be made,” said Reverend Charis Weathers, a Lutheran pastor who delivered the announcement to leaders of the Lummi Nation. “We hope that this journey will call people to action, that the eyes of those who have not seen what is happening to the land and waters will be opened, and the ears of those who have been deaf to the cries of the earth will finally hear.”

The ceremony began with a statement from Lummi Chairman Tim Ballew that endorsed the 5,500-mile totem pole journey. The journey will visit churches all over the Pacific Northwest that have signed onto the letter opposing coal export proposals. Lummi tribal member Freddie Lane delivered the Chairman’s statement to the assembled crowd.

“Already, coal export officials have shown breathtaking disrespect for our heritage,” the statement read. “To those who would sacrifice the way of life of all peoples of the Pacific Northwest, we say: take notice, you will not win this battle. Enough is enough!”

The focus of the event was the announcement by six major Christian churches in the Pacific Northwest that they would join the fight to block North America’s largest coal terminal at Cherry Point. Photo credit: Paul Anderson

Master Carver Jewell James spoke to the need for, and the intentions of, the totem pole journey. “The people must be awakened to what is happening,” he said. “The salmon are dying. The starfish have disappeared … Coal exports would add hundreds of ships thousands of feet long through a narrow passage in Alaska were some of the only salmon remain.”

James explained that he hoped the journey would strengthen relationships and community alliances. “I remember as I was taught by elders who said it’s not the totem pole that is sacred, it becomes treasured from the gathering of the people around it, from bringing families together.”

Those in attendance also heard from Chief Tsilixw, hereditary leader of the Lummi tribe, who spoke to what he felt was the responsibility of people of all faiths to uphold a shared responsibility to the land and water, and to future generations.

Following the remarks of speakers, members of the crowd were invited to join in blessing the 19-foot red cedar totem pole, which ultimately will be presented to First Nations battling tar sands proposals in their homelands of northern Alberta. The journey brings together an unusual alliance of First Nations, environmental organizations,and faith communities in a combined effort to protect the sacred sites of the Lummi Nation and the communities of the Pacific Northwest. The journey, which launched Aug. 17, will take approximately three weeks to complete, with the final ceremony scheduled for Sept. 6 in Alberta.

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