Gov. Inslee’s Veto of Tribal Consent
In a stunning blow to Indigenous People and Tribes, Washington's Gov. Jay Inslee recently vetoed Tribal consent provisions in the Climate Commitment Act (CCA). The vetoed provisions would have required Tribal government consent for projects that would harm Tribes’ cultural, archeological, or sacred sites. Fawn Sharp, President of the National Congress of American Indians, Vice President of the Quinault Indian Nation, and a leading global expert on climate change and human rights law had this to say:
This week, Jay Inslee committed the most egregious and shameless betrayal of a deal I have ever witnessed from a politician of any party, at any level. After using and exploiting Tribal Nation’s political capital to pass his climate bill, Jay Inslee made the cowardly decision on the day of the bill’s signing to ambush Tribal leaders by suddenly vetoing all Tribal consultation requirements and all protections for Native American sacred sites and burial grounds that his office and the State Legislature had negotiated as a condition of the bill’s passage. Jay Inslee will be mercilessly judged by history long after Indigenous Peoples triumph over his petty veto and continue to lead the world’s fight against climate change.
Columbia Riverkeeper stands in solidarity with Tribal Nations and their right to consent to energy developments that would harm Tribes’ cultural, archeological, or sacred sites. Gov. Inslee needs to hear from people who care about climate change: the Governor’s Tribal consent veto was flat out wrong. Click here to sign our petition.
Slashing “Consent” from Climate Commitment Act
The Climate Commitment Act aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while achieving critical co-benefits that create a healthier, more prosperous future for Washington. Gov. Inslee’s veto removes a requirement that projects funded by new revenue from cap and trade receive Tribal consent—not just consultation. An impressive coalition of Tribes and partners—19 sovereign Tribal Nations as well as the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians (ATNI) and many allies—collaborated on this bill in good faith, only to see their rights of consent stripped away by Governor Inslee in a surprise veto on the day he signed the bill.
In an article published in The New Republic, Nick Martin explains: “[W]hat you’re left with is yet another egregious example of how even the most progressive officials, when pressed to relinquish a modicum of their government’s power in the name of righting institutionalized wrongs of colonialism, continue choosing power over Indigenous rights.” Martin explains:
[The Climate Commitment Act] was crafted to address the state’s existing consultation process with the 19 tribal nations that hold lands in the state, particularly with regard to sacred sites and burial grounds. Consultation is the process by which state agencies must meet with tribes affected by upcoming development projects to ensure that any environmental, cultural, economic, or religious concerns or issues raised by affected tribal nations are weighed by developers and regulators as they determine whether to greenlight a particular project. But the consultation sessions, which are also mandated and carried out by federal agencies, have thus far been designed by state and federal agencies alike to function as little more than a box to be checked, consistently leaving Indian Country open to exploitation.
Section 6 of the Climate Commitment Act aimed to address consultation’s flaws: Section 6 added the consent requirement to the consultation process. If the state or private developers encroached on Tribal lands in a way that a Tribal Nation viewed as unacceptable, Washington state would recognize the Tribe’s ability to effectively veto the development. Martin explains: “This is what is known as Free, Prior, and Informed Consent, a standard set by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2007 that is only just now being considered by governments in the United States and Canada. It is what it looks like when settler policy actually respects tribal sovereignty. And this is what Inslee opted to remove from the bill.”
Sacred Sites at Risk Along the Columbia
Energy development on Tribal Nation ceded lands underscores the need for Tribal consent. Case in point: Rye Development’s Goldendale Pumped Storage Hydroelectric development, proposed along the Columbia’s shores near the John Day Dam. Yakama Nation opposes the development, and other Columbia Plateau Tribes have raised significant concerns about the development's destruction of irreplaceable cultural and religious resources, water quality, fish, and wildlife. In a June 8, 2021, letter to the Wash. Dept. of Ecology, Columbia Riverkeeper and a coalition of nonprofits highlighted the importance of Tribal Nation consent:
Our energy future stands at a crossroads. Turn one way and that future continues Washington’s history of disregard for Native people and Tribal rights, placing the burdens of a clean energy future on those communities already on the frontlines of climate change. Turn the other way and we can begin to see a new future where frontline communities are considered as part of our green energy future and not as sacrifices to achieve a greater good.
The fight for our climate should not continue to perpetuate colonial wrongs. Instead, elected leaders like Gov. Inslee must change the status quo to right those wrongs. Environmental degradation and destruction is a hallmark of a settler colonial state. In turn, a state seeking a greener future must address its roots of colonization to make true change.
Tribal Consent CCA Veto = Wrong