We Draw the Line: Why the Tsleil-Waututh Nation is raising a totem pole in our territories

On September 29, 2013, the Tsleil-Waututh Nation will welcome a powerful totem pole to our territories, the gift of our Salish relatives, the Lummi people. The Lummi Nation’s House of Tears Carvers have created a tradition of carving and delivering totem poles to areas struck by disaster or otherwise in need of hope, healing and protection. With this in mind, Master carver Jewell James has focused on the Salish Sea, the sacred landscape of both our nations. This gift unites the Tsleil-Waututh Nation with the Lummi Nation and all nations and allies who are opposed to new proposals to ship fossil fuels through the Salish Sea that would threaten sacred sites, the health of human populations and the integrity of marine ecosystems. The totem pole, which has journeyed along the coal train route from Montana through Washington State, will be raised in Tsleil-Waututh territories, looking across the Burrard Inlet to the holding tanks at Westridge Terminal site where Kinder Morgan loads crude oil and bitumen from the Trans Mountain pipeline onto tankers.

Kinder Morgan is proposing to build a new Trans Mountain pipeline roughly parallel to the existing pipeline built in 1953 from Alberta’s tar sands to the Lower Mainland. A new pipeline would triple the amount of bitumen shipped through the traditional territories of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation, including the waters of the Burrard Inlet and the Salish Sea, from the current 300,000 barrels per day to 890,000. Tanker traffic – and with it, the risk of a catastrophic spill — would increase dramatically, with one or more supertankers per day loading at Westridge Terminal in Burnaby and transiting through Vancouver’s harbour.

Tsleil-Waututh, the people of the Inlet, have always relied on the bounty of the local waters and shores, which historically supplied us with a secure source of food. We have said “no” to a new pipeline because of our experience with the old pipeline and the degradation of the Inlet. The existing pipeline has had four major leaks since Kinder Morgan took over pipeline operations in 2005 and two leaks in the past six months. The 2007 rupture of the pipeline in a Burnaby neighborhood spilled almost 250,000 litres (1500 barrels) of crude oil; enough flowed into Burrard Inlet to mark the shore on the other side. A spill in Burrard Inlet or the Salish Sea could result in more than $10 billion in economic costs alone and could never be fully cleaned up or remediated. The environmental effects of such a catastrophe would be irreversible.

Tsleil-Waututh Nation has voiced strong public opposition to a second Kinder Morgan pipeline. Tsleil-Waututh has established the Sacred Trust Initiative with the goal of stopping the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline project. On September 1, 2012, Tsleil-Waututh and the Squamish Nation signed a historic declaration committing our two nations to jointly opposing Kinder Morgan’s plans for a new pipeline.

The Lummi Nation is fighting a proposal to build North America’s largest coal port on their traditional territory, in an area of that encompasses burial grounds. Construction of a terminal at Cherry Point (which the Lummi call Xwe’chi’eXen) in Washington State would result in significant interference with Lummi treaty rights and irreversible and irretrievable damage to Lummi spiritual values. The Lummi Nation is concerned not only about the destruction of their sacred sites, but also about the deterioration in air quality and contamination of water and soil as a result of fugitive coal dust dispersal. Shipping of coal could also have devastating impacts on fishing and fishing rights along the Washington coast. As a result, in 2012 the Lummi Nation adopted a formal position opposing the proposed project. As Lummi Councilman Jay Julius, in opposing the proposed coal port, has said, Kwel hoy’: “We draw the line.” The
name Kwel hoy’ has also been given to the sacred totem pole.

The combined transits of ships carrying coal and supertankers loaded with bitumen through the same narrow transits of the Salish Sea make an oil spill virtually inevitable. Concerned groups on both sides of the border are supporting and applauding the efforts of the Tsleil-Waututh and Lummi Nations to protect the Salish Sea and prevent it from being turned into a fossil fuel corridor.

For more information:

About Tsleil-Waututh Nation and the Sacred Trust Initiative:

About the totem pole and its journey:

Got a question?