QUINAULT & OIL
Up to 50 oil trains a month, each 1.5 miles long, would supply up to three proposed Grays Harbor oil terminals in Hoquiam (See Hoquiam oil). Bakken oil would be loaded into enormous tankers, next to key migrating bird habitat (Citizens for a Clean Harbor). The Quinault Indian Nation and Grays Harbor residents became concerned about the effects of an oil tanker spill on local fisheries and shellfish beds (Goodell). Quinault treaty territory extends into Grays Harbor, and the coastal reservation is famed for its pristine beaches, razor clams, and blueback sockeye salmon (Capoeman).
Collaboration between the Quinault Nation and Grays Harbor environmental groups had extended back to 2008, when Joe Schumacker, Marine Resources Scientist for the Quinault Department of Fisheries was the tribal liaison on the Grays Harbor Marine Resource Committee. He kept contact with the Friends of Grays Harbor and Grays Harbor Audubon, as well as the Citizens for a Clean Harbor that defeated a proposed coal terminal in 2012, only to face three proposed oil terminals later the same year (Grunbaum). A consolidated appeal by the Quinault Indian Nation, Sierra Club’s Earthjustice, and the local environmental groups convinced the state Shoreline Hearings Board in 2013 to revoke Washington Department of Ecology permits for two of the oil terminals, pending a state Environmental Impact Statement (Haviland).
Nearly unanimous public opposition began to emerge in 2014 during a series of Department of Ecology hearings along the proposed oil train route (Shannon). On the morning he passed away that year, Billy Frank Jr. supported Quinault’s stand in his last blog: "It’s clear that crude oil can be explosive and the tankers used to transport it by rail are simply unsafe...Everyone knows that oil and water don’t mix, and neither do oil and fish...It’s not a matter of whether spills will happen, it’s a matter of when" (Frank) Quinault Indian Nation President Fawn Sharp asserted, “Not all the oil gets cleaned up, no matter how good the effort. That oil affects the habitat, and can make it uninhabitable by fish for decades” (Tory).
The Grays Harbor community had historically been hostile to outside mainstream environmentalists, whom they blame for the closure of local timber mills during the Northwest “spotted owl wars.” Working only with Earthjustice would reinforce that perception, but Quinault leaders made a point of working also with local environmental groups and fishermen, and pushing a “No Oil Trains” message on local billboards and newspapers. As Quinault Vice President Tyson Johnston commented, some local residents “will lump us in too with a lot of the environmental groups and we do carry a lot of those values, but we’re in this for very different reasons such as sovereignty, our future generations” (Johnston). Quinault leaders also point out that climate change, generated by the burning of fossil fuels, has detrimentally affected salmon and shellfish for both Quinault and non-tribal fishers (Ahearn).
The Quinault Nation had usually been at odds with the Washington Dungeness Crab Fishermen’s Association, which has challenged treaty-backed crab harvests. But as Association Vice-President Larry Thevik pointed out, the oil terminal proposals have “united us in the preservation of the resource that we bicker over. It has also kind of created a new channel of communication because of those of us at the bottom of the food chain, the actual fishers, have been able to talk somewhat directly to another nation.” (Thevik). Joe Schumacker, the Quinault Nation Marine Resources Scientist, agreed that “with no resource, there’s no battle…we have to maintain what’s out there. Those people, those local crabbers out here are almost as place-based as the tribes. I will never say that they are as place-based, but they feel so deeply rooted here and it’s part of their lives…We find ourselves working together on these matters.” (Schumacker).
Quinault President Fawn Sharp (also President of the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians) was born in 1970 “at the height of the fishing rights conflict. I was a young child, but was very impressionable. At eight years old, I understood what treaty abrogation meant, that there were others trying to wipe out the entire livelihood of not only my family, but my larger Quinault family. That was very real. My perspective is a product of that era.” She remembered being called names in neighboring communities, and her family’s tires being slashed. Even as late as 2000, when she testified for a fisheries enhancement project, “some irate sports fishermen in the audience” kicked her chair (Sharp).
President Sharp reflected that “part of the relationship that we have today arose out of generations of disputes. Through those disputes, whether they liked us… didn’t like us… they came to know and understand Quinault and our values …For us, a lot of the relationships we have with our neighbors arose out of a relationship of much division, strife and conflict, but through that….they’ve come to know who we are. That, to me, is a foundational bit of understanding” (Sharp).
President Sharp was later impressed, however, in meeting Larry Thevik and other local crabbers when they worked for a renewable energy project and against a coal terminal, and agreed to work together with Quinault even as they disagreed about crab harvest allocation. When the oil terminal issue emerged, Sharp “thought we need to develop these partnerships because this oil issue is so much larger than Quinault Nation.” She added a “footnote of hope” that “the cooperation that we’re seeing now is going to provide another sort of step of maturity and good faith and alliance and looking beyond special interest or individual interest to the greater good. Perhaps today’s generation and younger people growing up in this political climate will come to understand that it is so much better to work together with neighbors” (Sharp).
Sharp and Thevik published a March 2016 editorial portraying crude oil as a risk to the fishing and tourism industries, and pointing to 57 percent opposition among Grays Harbor County residents: "Among the top concerns of survey respondents were the potential negative impacts on traffic, the health of fish and wildlife in Grays Harbor, and water quality in local rivers, streams and our coastal shores. We share local residents’ concerns about oil trains, tankers and barges that would pose an ever present risk of oil spills, elevate vessel traffic safety risk and impede access to fishing grounds for both tribal and non-tribal fishers" (Sharp & Thevik).
Sharp and Thevik observed, "A better path than crude oil would build on our strengths like commercial fisheries and tourism. Grays Harbor and surrounding waters support nearly 700 tribal and more than 3,000 non-tribal commercial fishing jobs. A study last month by the Greater Grays Harbor Chamber of Commerce found nearly 6,000 tourism-related jobs in the county, accounting for one in four non-farm industry jobs in the region and ranking us sixth out of Washington’s 39 counties for tourism. Grays Harbor is essential habitat for shellfish, including oysters and razor clams, fish such as salmon, steelhead and sturgeon and is a major nursery ground for Dungeness crab. Scenic beauty, clean beaches, birds and wildlife, and recreation opportunities are central to our local quality of life and the lifeblood of our tourism economy. We should focus on keeping Grays Harbor and the Washington coast safe and productive, not putting them at risk from oil trains, tankers and barges" (Sharp & Thevik).
By Spring 2016, two of the three Grays Harbor oil terminals had been dropped, and the third was under sustained public pressure. The Quinault Nation sponsored a July 2016 “Shared Waters, Shared Values” rally, including a flotilla of fishing boats, tribal canoes, and kayaks, and provided a seafood meal for the participants (Quinault Indian Nation). Quinault had began to explore sustainable economic options to crude oil (around industries such as tourism, port exports, forestry, and fisheries), in collaboration with Grays Harbor communities (Resource Rebels).
Quinault President Fawn Sharp concluded, “When we’re confronted with issues like this oil terminal, where it’s all about corporate greed… I think we can help lead and understand with our values system… proven through centuries. It’s just my hope that future generations, including our own, will go back to that value system that we have of interdependence and interrelationships. There’s so much more positive that can come out of coming together than all of that time, energy, headache, heartache that’s extended in conflict and disputes. If we could focus on the greater good and very broad vision for what we want for our children, we’ll all be so much better off” (Sharp).
This passage is excerpted from Unlikely Alliances: Native Nations and White Communities Join to Defend Rural Lands (University of Washington Press, Indigenous Confluences series, forthcoming June 2017).
Remarks by Quinault Indian Nation President Fawn Sharp at the "Shared Waters, Shared Values" rally at Hoquiam City Hall, on July 8, 2016:
"....We see it across the country. Not only are tribal citizens taking a stand, but those non-Indian citizens that share our values and share our waters, you've stood strong with us. We thank you for that, too. Now we're at a critical place here in Grays Harbor. A decision is going to be made soon. The future of this harbor is going to go in one direction or the other. We need it to go in the direction of no crude oil in Grays Harbor. When you think about what's at stake, at Quinault we commission an economic study, and about 10,000 jobs are at risk and being jeopardized. 700 tribal fishermen. Do we have our fishermen here? About 3,200 non-tribal fishermen. Do we have non-tribal fishermen here? About 4,000 that are tourism-related and tourism-based. Who all here supports tourism in Grays Harbor?
Not only are those industries compromised, but the general health and welfare of all citizens would be compromised by this decision. Our ancestors gave up so much in signing the treaties. They wanted to ensure that our generation ... We are the seventh generation since the Quinault Treaty was signed in 1800s. This generation is the generation that was secured by treaty, and it's this generation that is going to stand on our treaty to ensure seven generations in the future.
The great Billy Frank, Jr at one point said, 'The salmon deserve to be in healthy systems, healthy waters. They cannot get out of the water and fight for themselves. It's up to us to take a stand for that precious salmon and that precious resource.' We are the voice not only in future generations of our citizens, we are the voice of future generations of an abundance of salmon that we want to ensure will always remain in Grays Harbor.
No oil company, domestic or foreign, will ever be in a position to compromise and destroy that resource that God, the creator, intended for us to enjoy, for us to protect, and for us to long stand by. When we think about our future generations and our young children, they have so much to learn and to honor and to respect, and when they see the average citizen, the average adult, take the stand that we take today, we're teaching them something very value and we want to ensure that we continue to teach those future generations the values. As I said when we came in, not only are we sharing the waters and sharing the values today, but we are honoring our ancestors. We are honoring those ancestors that, from the beginning of time, paddled and fished in these waters, and we're honoring future generations.
.It's not only shared values and shared waters by us today, it's shared values and shared waters of generations prior from the beginning of time and generations well into the future to the end of time. It's our duty and we will continue to hand the future legacy that was gifted to us to gift to those future generations to ensure that, long into the future, they will share the same values and the same waters pure, unpolluted, uncorrupted for future generations to enjoy. That's our job, that's why we're taking this stand, that's why we stand with each and every one of you today. On behalf of the Quinault Indian Nation, we truly, from the bottom of our hearts, thank you for joining us. The fight isn't going to end today, it's not going to end next month, it's not going to end next year. We're going to constantly face battles with out previous resources. From this day forward, we'll continue to take a stand with each and every one of you. We're so incredibly honored that you're standing here today and joining us. On behalf of the Quinault Indian Nation, we truly thank you for being here with us today."
Ahearn, Ashley (2015, Nov. 9). Washington Tribe Confronts Climate Change, Sea Level Rise. KUOW.org.
Capoeman, Pauline K. ed. (1991). Land of the Quinault, 2nd edition (Taholah, Wash.: Quinault Indian Nation).
Frank Billy, Jr. (2014, May 5). “Keep Big Oil Out of Grays Harbor,” “Being Frank” blog, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission.
Goodell, Junior (2015, June 1). "Grays Harbor oil terminal would threaten Quinault Indian identity," Seattle Times.
Grunbaum, Arthur (R.D.) (2015, Feb. 27). Personal communication.
Haviland, David (2013, April 23) “Quinault and Earthjustice Hope to Shine Light on Crude by Rail,” KBKW Local News. Haviland, David (2014, April 23). “Quinault Indian Nation urges opposition to oil transport and shipment through Grays Harbor,” KBKW Local News.
Johnston, Tyson (2015, Oct. 8). Vice President, Quinault Indian Nation (Taholah, Wash.), interview.
Quinault Indian Nation. (2016, May). “Let’s Keep Grays Harbor Safe From Crude Oil,” Quinault Indian Nation. Quinault Indian Nation (2016, July). “QIN Environmental Defense”
Resource Rebels: Environmental Justice Movements Building Hope (forthcoming 2016), Economic Options in Grays Harbor (Olympia, Wash.: The Evergreen State College).
Schumacker, Joe. (2015, Oct. 8). Marine Resources Scientist, Quinault Indian Nation (Taholah, Wash.), interview.
Shannon, Brad (2014, May 4). “State oil trains run into heavy opposition,” The Olympian.
Sharp, Fawn R. (2015, Oct. 29). President of Quinault Indian Nation and Affiliated Tribe of Northwest Indians (Taholah, Wash.), interview.
Sharp, Fawn R., & Larry Thevik. (2016, March 19). “Risks far outweigh any benefit from proposed oil terminals in Grays Harbor,” The Daily World.
Thevik, Larry (2015, Oct. 8). Vice President, Washington Dungeness Crab Fishermen’s Association (Ocean Shores, Wash.), interview.
Tory, Sarah (2015, May 27). “Northwest tribes are a growing obstacle to energy development,” High Country News (May 27, 2015).