A coal terminal would bring profit to one tribe, damage to another

Photos of the communities for and against the proposed Washington port.

  • Young football players walk down the street in Lodge Grass, a small town on the Crow Reservation in southeast Montana.

    Daniel Kukla
  • Crow youth play basketball after school in Crow Agency, Montana.

    Daniel Kukla
  • The Bird family spends the morning together at their home on the Crow Reservation. There are three generations of coal workers in the family and Tara Bird, right, often refers to herself as "a coal miner's daughter."

    Daniel Kukla
  • Kennard Real Bird walks home after inspecting his bucking horses on the Crow Reservation in southeast Montana.

    Daniel Kukla
  • A Cloud Peak Energy employee loads coal into train cars at Spring Creek Mine in southeast Montana.

    Daniel Kukla
  • Train cars filled with coal in Montana await transportation west to processing plants.

    Daniel Kukla
  • Jewell James and Ramona Charles spend the afternoon with their family on the Lummi ancestral lands of Cherry Point, Washington, the site of the proposed new coal export terminal.

    Daniel Kukla
  • Jack Horn, a salmon fisherman, loads his catch onto a scale at a fish plant on the Lummi Indian Reservation in Puget Sound.

    Daniel Kukla
  • Vernell Lane and her nephew, both Lummi tribe members, enjoy freshly smoked salmon collars fished from the surrounding waters near Cherry Point, Washington.

    Daniel Kukla
  • Horses stand enveloped in early morning fog by the tracks in the Idaho panhandle.

    Daniel Kukla

 

These images are part of an ongoing project to photograph coal in America. This particular series documents the Lummi and Crow Nations, communities a thousand miles apart that each have a stake in whether a new coal terminal is built off the Washington coast.

The proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal near Bellingham, Washington, is currently under environmental review. If built, it would carry Wyoming and Montana coal to energy-hungry Asia. As many as 18 new freight trains would run back and forth each day from the Powder River Basin to the Washington terminal and two others.

For many Crow Indians, the thick coal seam running below their Montana reservation seems like a savior. With over half the adult population unemployed, and lacking adequate housing or healthcare, a new agreement to mine coal for export with Cloud Peak Energy, one of the world’s largest coal companies, could prove a lifeline for the tribe in the form of jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars.

Yet opposition to export terminals in the Pacific Northwest has reached a fever pitch, with residents, mayors and environmental groups lining up to protest the pollution and traffic congestion that would accompany this new portal to the global fossil fuel trade. Ultimately, the fate of the Gateway Pacific Terminal may rest with the Lummi Indians, a Native American tribe in Puget Sound whose treaty rights under federal law guarantee them access to hunt and fish their native lands near the proposed terminal site. Many Lummi are concerned that the proposed coal terminal would pollute the fishing grounds they depend on and defile the ancient cultural sites that sustain their traditions.

Environmental reviews for the terminal are expected in 2016.