A Night at an Oil Terminal Hearing in Vancouver, WA

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by Northwest Nutria

Some friends and I scrambled up to Vancouver, Washington, from Portland, Oregon yesterday afternoon to join the local ILWU, the Columbia River Keeper, and numerous neighborhood associations, science teachers, and concerned citizens in renouncing a proposed Tesoro-Savage oil terminal/chokepoint in the Port of Vancouver.

The journey was uneventful, until our crew was damn near chased down by a jogger shrieking that we wouldn’t have bikes if it weren’t for big oil (kinda irrelevant since I’m a nutria). By the time we arrived at the rally, there were already more than 100 people holding placards and a large banner. Comrades from Rising Tide Seattle had come to show their support, and I think I even might have spied a few erstwhile associates now known to travel in newer circles.

After a bold speech by the director of the Columbia River Keeper, followed by some rousing hard-talk by the head of the local ILWU, I went inside to sign up.

I had originally come principally to support local residents, but since I signed up to speak, I decided to gather some information to use. As people started to flood into the meeting hall, I perused the documents laid out by the environmental agency in charge—it was pretty clear that they claimed to take climate change seriously (at least on paper). No wonder so many people were so shocked that the city had endeavored on such a terrible project.

More than 250 people had poured into the auditorium when the panel took its place on stage. As several people would state, the panel was clearly all-white, mostly male, and had no indigenous representation whatsoever. I was astonished that by the time it was my turn to speak, not one single person had spoken up for the oil terminal. I thought to myself, “Don’t they usually pay at least one or two guys to bleat some half-assed, half-hearted blither about jobs and cars?

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The unanimity of the gathering even included terrorism expert Vahid Brown of recent (in)famity, who spoke hunched over the microphone with a monotonous muttering voice, insisting that Al Qaeda was far less of a threat than climate change. After his 2 minutes of fame were up, I saw several died in the wool activists even give the old thumbs up (that’s what you do instead of clapping at these forums).

The night went on (and on), with the representative of the Port of Vancouver taking the most brutal dressing-down by a woman who waved her finger and asserted, “when I hear the Port of Vancouver, I automatically think, ‘traitor.’” The Port of Vancouver is on thin ice with locals, after admitting that it illegally signed over a 10 year lease to Tesoro-Savage without any process whatsoever, and then doing it again in front of everyone’s noses.

As the night began to descend, a young activist representing the Warm Springs Nation stood up to speak. She immediately identified herself and the land of the Klickitat (Qwû’lh-hwai-pûm), and chastised the panel for refusing to have indigenous representation. Insisting that all the tribes of the Columbia River be not only consulted, but represented on the panel, itself, the Warm Springs rep went slightly over her time limit, when the chairman of the panel brought down the proverbial hammer.

“You’re over time.” He declared.

The young woman looked shocked. She continued to read what appeared to be her final sentence.

“Security!” screeched the chairman, “Please escort this young lady out of the meeting hall.”

There was stir, and shouts of “No!” and “Give her more time!” emerged from the audience. Slowly people realized that the security guard had left the room, but was on his way. Then the next person on the list to speak ceded her time to the Warm Springs woman, but the chairman declared, “You will cede your time to the next person, but not to this young lady. Her time is up.”

A police officer entered the room, and the Warm Springs activist finished her statement in spite of his presence, announcing that she would leave of her own volition out of respect for the proceedings. After she decried the panel for its illegal presence on stolen Native land, the young lady abandoned the podium, and the audience mounted a slow-clap, which flew in the face of the rules of the hearing and filled the meeting hall with exuberant solidarity.

Disgusted at the panel’s disregard for the words of the sole representative of a Native group, and its apparent sabotaging of its own hearing, we high-tailed it, scurrying home through the dark, moonless night, past winding turns that flirted with freeways and historic forts—symbols of genocide and its modern infrastructure.

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