I was born and raised fishing on that river. The Chehalis, as well as the time-honored fishing traditions that were passed down to me from my dad and grandpa, has allowed me to build my Quinault life around fishing and has helped to make me the person who I am today — a 26-year-old Quinault Indian.
So much of our culture and our way of life has been assimilated or eradicated by the U.S. government. However, because of — and giving thanks to — our all-mighty sacred treaty with the United States, fishing survives and remains a stronghold to our identity. Just as you cannot put a value on the air you breathe, we cannot place a monetary value on the fish, their habitat or our treaty rights.
Those, however, are being put at risk by proposals for oil-train terminals at Grays Harbor. These terminals would ship tens of millions of gallons of Bakken crude oil from North Dakota and tar-sands oil from Canada.
“As you cannot put a value on the air you breathe, we cannot place a monetary value on fish.”
The crude would come by train along the Chehalis River to be stored in massive shoreline tanks, then pumped onto oil tankers and barges, dramatically increasing large-vessel traffic in and out of the harbor.
Like me, my father is a commercial fisherman. For 32 seasons, he traveled in the summers to Alaska. He experienced the Exxon Valdez spill and saw the impact of that disaster. I grew up hearing horror stories, not just about what that spill did to the environment but about the economic impact to the fishermen and to the region as a whole.
The thought of a similar disaster occurring on the Chehalis River is horrifying. An oil spill could destroy our way of life and who we are as Quinault people.
At a meeting last year between the Quinault Indian Nation and the state Department of Ecology, department officials asked for information about the economic impacts of the proposed terminals in Grays Harbor.
The Quinault Indian Nation hired an economic analyst to conduct an independent study. The 150-page analysis is sobering. It found that the long-term economic impact of an oil spill — whether from an oil train into the Chehalis River or from a ship in or just outside Grays Harbor — would be devastating.
More than 150 tribal commercial fishermen could lose their jobs, resulting in a direct loss of as much as $20 million in wages and up to $70 million in revenue for affected businesses.
These are just the monetary losses to the Quinault Indian Nation. The analysis doesn’t include the costs and losses from oil spills on private-property owners or non-Quinault businesses.
And, more important, the report does not — and cannot — put a monetary value on the cultural and spiritual importance of fishing and the Chehalis River to members of the Quinault Indian Nation.
The risks imposed on the Quinault Indian Nation and other nearby communities and residents are real, and frightening. Disasters caused by oil trains — oil spills and explosions — have been in the news with increasing frequency, each containing stories of incessant anguish and misery of disaster.
But even aside from those very real risks, these proposed terminals would impact us on a daily basis. The increase in traffic along the river’s main channel would be extremely disruptive to our treaty fishing on the Chehalis. Fishing and oil shipping traffic cannot coexist simultaneously.
Fishing is who we are as a people. It provides more than sustenance, more than an economic lifeline. It is our organic identity, our lifeblood.
The oil-train terminals proposed for Grays Harbor put that — and much, much more — in very real jeopardy.
Junior Goodell is a commercial fisherman and chair of two Quinault Indian Nation fishing committees.