The Coast Salish peoples of the Pacific Northwest are the traditional canoe pullers. They are the cedar people. The salmon nation.
Their nearly 60,000 people have lived along the coasts of Oregon and Washington State, and in British Columbia, Canada for more than 10,000 years. They are united by language, culture and the Salish Sea.
And now, in addition, they are united in their opposition to oil giant Kinder Morgan’s proposed $5.4 billion expansion of its existing Trans Mountain tar sands oil pipeline, which links the Alberta oil sands fields to a shipping terminal in Burnaby, near Vancouver, B.C. The new pipeline would nearly triple the capacity of the existing pipeline from 300,000 barrels per day to 890,000, increasing by sevenfold the number of tankers carrying diluted tar sands bitumen through the Salish Sea in Washington and Canada.
“It’s not if, but when, one of these tankers runs aground somewhere,” Brian Cladoosby, chairman of the Swinomish Tribal Community on Fidalgo Island in northern Puget Sound, told Canada’s National Energy Board (NEB), the federal regulatory agency charged with reviewing the project.
Such an event would very likely lead to “irreparable damage to salmon and shellfish habitat, and destroy our way of life along with it,” Cladoosby, who is also president of the National Congress of American Indians, told the NEB. “We can no longer allow the Salish Sea to be used as a dumping ground.”
Tribal leaders from four Coast Salish tribes in Washington, as well as elders, fishers and youth, joined Cladoosby in testifying before the NEB in Chilliwack, British Columbia on October 22. The Salish Sea is a network of waterways between the southwestern tip of British Columbia and the northwestern tip of Washington State, and includes the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Haro Strait, the Strait of Georgia and the Puget Sound.