Northwest tribes took part in a national gathering Wednesday for native leaders in Washington, D.C., where top federal officials told them they stand together in opposing climate change and supporting treaty rights.
Interior Secretary Sally Jewell was among those who addressed the annual White House Tribal Nations Conference.
"There’s a saying: 'we don’t inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.'" she said. "So that’s what climate change is all about. We have an earth that is in trouble."
Jewell’s comments were met with applause.
But the Department of Interior has recently come under fire from environmental groups and tribes for leasing federal land in Wyoming and Montana to coal mining companies.
Some of that coal could be hauled by train to two proposed export terminals in Washington state.
Northwest tribes oppose those plans. They say the increased pollution and ship traffic will violate treaty fishing rights.
Gina McCarthy, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, stressed that the Obama Administration respects those treaty rights.
"Tribal rights and their resources are protected by treaties and treaties are the supreme law of the land," she said.
Lummi tribal councilman Jeremiah Julius said he was glad to hear that.
"With the threats being proposed that would significantly impact our treaty it really does mean a lot to hear that from McCarthy," said Julius, who was in Washington, D.C. for the meeting. The Lummi reservation is near Bellingham, Washington, where the largest coal export terminal could be built.
This fall, Oregon officials denied permits for a coal terminal proposed for the Columbia River because it would impact tribal treaty fishing areas there.
Regulators are still reviewing the proposals for the two coal shipping terminals in Washington.