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Indigenous Voices Address Olympia Port Commissioners

Earth-Feather Sovereign of the Colville Confederated Tribes and Okanagan from British Columbia addresses Port of Olympia commissioners on Monday night.
  • Activists, Sheriff John Snaza also speak at port meeting
  • 2018 Budget Passes, Taxes Raised
  • Rail Blockade Continues

Due to the continued direct action rail blockade by activists in downtown Olympia, Port of Olympia commissioners provided community members an extra half hour of time to speak at its Monday night meeting.

A standing room only crowd of about 65 people packed the port’s meeting room.

Several speakers were activists involved with blockading the railroad tracks in downtown Olympia. Other speakers included Native community members, Thurston County Sheriff John Snaza, who was not in uniform, longshore workers, and community members supportive of the blockade.

The four hour meeting also included a vote to increase taxes to support the 2018 budget and the purchase of two new log loaders. Commissioner E.J. Zita voted no on the budget, suggesting other ways to raise needed funds.

At the outset of the meeting, commissioner Joe Downing suggested that commissioners make extra time in their agenda to allow activists who are specifically blocking the railroad line time to speak. He said he went to the blockade two times over the weekend and spoke with activists.

“Dialogue is the start to a solution…I’m hoping for a peaceful resolution,” he said.

Collectively known as Olympia Stand, the group is demanding that the Port of Olympia cease all fossil fuel and military infrastructure shipments. They also demand “horizontal and democratic control of the Port of Olympia, including participation from area indigenous tribes,” according to a press release.

The blockade began November 17, outlasting a similar blockade for the same reasons in November, 2016. That blockade lasted seven days and ended by a multi-jurisdictional law enforcement action.

Commissioner Zita said she was told by port staff that corn syrup, not ceramic proppants, was currently needing to leave the port in train cars.

Commissioner Bill McGregor said the soda pop bottling companies at Mottman Park in Tumwater such as L&E Bottling Company are being adversely impacted as a result of the rail blockage and will make production decisions within the next few days.

Commissioner Zita asked for a commissioner discussion on the situation but that was denied by Commissioners Downing and Bill McGregor. She then asked for a work session to meet with the City of Olympia and others to peacefully resolve the situation before law enforcement is involved. She said that Sheriff John Snaza had reached out to her and shares a concern for public safety.

“We have an opportunity to do better this time than we did last time,” she said.

Commissioners McGregor and Downing were non-committal in their desire to meet.

Many speakers asked for a halt to the port’s contract with Rainbow Ceramics. Ceramic proppants are used in the process of hydraulic fracking in North Dakota.

Kyle Lucas, Tulalip Tribes and Nlaka’pamux Nation, addressed Port of Olympia commissioners on Monday night as a spokesperson for the Indigenous Caucus, a group that is supportive of the rail blockade in downtown Olympia.

Kyle Lucas, Tulalip Tribes and Nlaka’pamux Nation, called for an end to the port’s Rainbow Ceramics contract, and requested port consultation with Indian tribes. She said many different groups have come together at the blockade and although no one group speaks for the blockade, she speaks for the Indigenous Caucus.

“As land defenders and water protectors, we as the Indigenous Caucus formed last year…to stand up for the Standing Rock Sioux to help support them defend their water…from a terrible practice called hydraulic fracturing….We have been fighting for our land and water against corporate and government oppression for 200 plus years. We don’t always agree among ourselves but tribes and indigenous peoples gathered at Standing Rock to make a stand for months in the most unbelievable weather conditions because we feel so strongly about this….

“We feel silence would be tantamount to aiding and abetting the carnage in one of the most dirtiest, most wasteful, reckless and wasteful industries in the world…We ask for your support in ending that complicity by ending the contract. We also ask that you please consult Indian Tribes…please end this deadly practice of contributing to climate change, global warming whose ravages we have witnessed with unprecedented wildfires, hurricanes, storms, flooding and mass displacement of peoples, many of them brown peoples….Migwetch….thank you for hearing me,” said Lucas.

Earth-Feather Sovereign of the Colville Confederated Tribes and Okanagan from British Columbia asked that port staff start the public comment clock after tribal members are done introducing themselves. She said she was very disappointed to not see the flags of the Medicine Creek Treaty Tribes of 1854 displayed in the port room or at Olympia City Hall or the Capitol Building. She was also disappointed that tribal council members weren’t present as part of port conversations.

“When it comes to these port blockades, not only are they (the activists) protecting our environment and our Mother Earth, they’re also protecting our women and children who are being sex trafficked, being stolen and brought to these men camps and they’re protecting our women who are the backbone of this nation and if we are to uplift our nation, we need to uplift our women. We need to protect our children because not only are we protecting our children of our next seven generations, we are protecting your children and your seven generations….What’s going to happen when all the trees are cut down and we can’t breathe? What’s going to happen to the water when we can’t drink?” she asked.

The “men camps,” Sovereign referred to are the energy company–built barracks that have been built around fracking sites in North Dakota.

Marles Blackbird, Standing Rock Hunkpapa Lakota and Cheyenne River Minicojou Lakota, elaborated on the oil field camps and culture of sex trafficking, illegal drugs and violence, and increased alcohol use that impacts not only the surrounding towns but indigenous tribes.

“By enabling these (fracking) companies who are just turning a blind eye…is just being complicit,” she said.

Several speakers directly involved with the blockade strongly suggested meeting with the Indigenous Caucus. One speaker said that the Indigenous Caucus has the best perspective on economic hardships.

“There is a chance here to heal from the wounds enacted by generations of exploitation of land and water,” he said.

“There’s real potential to resolve the port blockade peacefully. You need to show good faith and prove yourself around this issue,” said a woman who identified herself as Emma.

Sovereign spoke to the commissioners again, saying, “The Indigenous Caucus is a good beginning but we’re only here as advocates. The people you should be reaching out to are the tribes. I’m sure there are lots of businesses here who are supposed to have liaisons…but we are glad to be here to help bring in these people and help start these conversations,” she said.

Sheriff John Snaza also addressed the commissioners and the audience saying he appreciated all the comments he heard. He encouraged continued communication.

“I don’t get to pick and choose which laws I want to enforce and which ones I do not. The hardest part I’ve seen at the blockade is…the individuals I’ve contacted don’t really want to talk to the sheriff but…I wish they would be willing to speak with us and explain what their intentions are.”

He said that last year, there was a lack of communication “from the city to the port, from the city to Union Pacific, the port to the city, oh, and by the way, there’s no communication with Sheriff’s Office.”

Addressing the audience, he asked, “Please sit down and talk with us. Last year, unfortunately, when we broke up the blockade, individuals caused damage….(By doing so) you’re losing the point of your cause. Please make the point of your cause so we can understand….We may not agree on everything…but we have an opportunity to come to some sort of agreement without individuals being hurt or harmed.”

In the end, Commissioner McGregor said he believes in the rule of law, and state and federal laws are being broken. Instead of responding to the concerns of those who spoke at the podium, he quoted unsubstantiated demands and extreme comments he found on social media.

Commissioner Zita again suggested a work session on Wednesday to discuss a meeting with the City of Olympia and the rail blockade’s Indigenous Caucus. Commissioners McGregor and Downing said they would check their schedules.

Activists continue their blockade of the railroad tracks in downtown Olympia at Seventh and Jefferson Streets. The tracks are used to transport a variety of products, including ceramic proppants used in hydraulic fracking. Community members addressed Port of Olympia commissioners at their meeting Monday night.

Correction, November 28: Port commissioners voted to increase the amount of taxes collected from the current $5 million to about $6 million. It’s complicated. See page 25 of the Port of Olympia meeting agenda packet, slide number 19 for Tax Levy Uses at https://www.portolympia.com/ArchiveCenter/ViewFile/Item/3028.

This article was originally published on Little Hollywood, which writes extensively about Port of Olympia issues.

Written by Janine Gates

Janine Gates

Janine Gates is a freelance journalist and photographer in Olympia, Washington and writes a news blog, Little Hollywood.

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