Protocol of Atonement

Paraphrasing the Skagit elder Taqseblu, “Everyone has been given a gift by Creator to hold on behalf of all humanity. You are not the owner of that gift, but rather the designated guardian. As caretaker, you respect your gifts and wisely apportion them ethically for the betterment of community.”

Respecting ones gifts requires recognition of the responsibility to use ones intelligence with compassion and generosity. One cannot be disrespectful of the intelligence of others, or of the gifts of Creator without suffering shame. When one takes that which belongs to others — be it the graves of ancestors, properties or relations that sustain their cultures — restitution must precede redemption. Restoration, therefore, is a preliminary protocol of atonement.


The coal export consortium comprising the Gateway Pacific Terminal project does not understand these laws of the Salish Sea indigenous nations. The consortium has treated the Coast Salish people with disrespect. It has not taken responsibility for its misconduct. Indeed, its spokespersons have been untruthful, pretending their misconduct was unintentional. This is disrespectful of our intelligence.

When their disrespect was exposed, the consortium spokesperson lashed out at those of us who revealed their misconduct, threatening us, as though we could be intimidated into not using our gifts for the betterment of community. He is mistaken; we respect and honor our gifts by offering them freely.

In the pollution-based economy, turbo-charged by the petrochemical revolution of the twentieth century, respect for Creator’s gifts was displaced by the rationalization of theft. That rationalization, like the rationalization of power and the rationalization of acquisition, is irrational.

In fact, it is not intelligent; it is sociopathic.

As we apply informational public health as a remedy to these threats to community, those who refuse to take responsibility for their misconduct will suffer. There is no way to circumvent or avoid the laws of generosity and compassion without harming themselves. If they do not listen to the voice within, their souls will remain corrupted.

The Voice Within

As Swinomish Tribal Chairman and President of the National Congress of American Indians Brian Cladoosby remarked recently, “Over the last 100 years, our most sacred site, the Salish Sea, has been deeply impacted by our pollution-based economy. We have decided no more and we are stepping forward.”

The pollution-based economy Cladoosby refers to includes environmentally devastating oil and coal mega-projects in Canada and the United States. As Wall Street seeks to cash in on fossil fuel export, the Tar Sands, the Powder River Basin coal mines and the Bakken Shale oil fields are a notorious part of that pollution-based economy threatening the Salish Sea.

As Dine scholar Larry Emerson noted, “our relationship to seventh generation principles of sustainability has been disrupted.” Contending with a legacy of corruption, plundered land, water and air, Dine (Navajo) youth — who’ve been culturally and ecologically devastated by the intergenerational traumas from uranium and coal mining — are demanding “the right to healthy Dine identities and ethical, sacred ecological lifestyles.”

Fear and greed are tools companies like Peabody Coal, Pacific International Terminals and Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad use to divide and conquer indigenous peoples and American communities from the mountains of Appalachia to the mesas of Arizona and the shores of the Salish Sea. Stepping forward together as peoples of conscience means enlisting our humanity in combination with others.

As the renowned human rights organizer Bill Wassmuth observed, “To enhance and ensure our survival, it is not only noble, but necessary, to act upon the voice within.”