SEATTLE – American Indian tribes in Washington, including the Spokane Tribe, on Tuesday called on President Barack Obama to overhaul the way the federal government consults with tribes on fossil fuel export and other projects.
The Spokane Tribe, Yakama Nation, Lummi Nation and Swinomish Indian Tribal Community released a five-point plan they say will improve the consultation process, protect sacred sites and provide greater recognition of tribal rights.
Among the provisions, the tribal leaders want the Army Corps of Engineers to do a regionwide environmental review of fossil fuel export proposals, one that takes into account the overall impact that individual projects will have on tribes in the region. They also want Obama to strengthen an executive order on Indian sacred sites by including language about the need for tribes to grant informed consent on infrastructure projects.
Leaders of those tribes met with federal officials in a closed session Seattle Tuesday. It’s one of several tribal consultations spurred by the federal government’s decision in September to step into the Standing Rock Sioux’s fight over the Dakota Access oil pipeline.
The federal agencies said last month that the case “highlighted the need for a serious discussion” about nationwide reforms “with respect to considering tribes’ views on these types of infrastructure projects.”
The Obama administration has invited leaders from 567 federally recognized tribes to participate in consultations aimed at getting tribal input on such infrastructure projects. Meetings are scheduled through Nov. 21 in New Mexico, Montana, Minneapolis and South Dakota.
The Dakota pipeline protest has resonated in the Pacific Northwest where tribes have sought to block several fossil fuel projects proposed in this region.
In May, the Army Corps rejected a $700 million coal-export terminal proposed for Washington state because regulators decided the project would violate the Lummi tribe’s treaty-protected fishing rights. Other tribes, such as the Yakama Nation, have opposed an oil-terminal project proposed along the Columbia River in Vancouver.
“We have treaties and promises from the federal government but almost always, we have to go to court and use our resources defending these rights,” Tim Ballew II, chairman of the Lummi Indian Business Council, said in a statement.
David Brown Eagle, vice chairman of the Spokane Tribe Business Council, said in a statement that “the federal government must do more to keep the promises this country made to Indian people. We shouldn’t have to fight to protect what was already promised to us.”