My journey to climate activism began when my husband and I became fossil fuel refugees. We affectionately called our small farm, located in Greene County, Pa., just a mile from the West Virginia state line, “Almost West Virginia.” We lived there for decades, raising our children and their myriad pets as well as sheep, goats, fruits and vegetables. Then we watched in horror as the fossil fuel industry began to frack the Marcellus. We witnessed the destruction of our self-sufficient lifestyle, our community, and our planet as our rural area transformed into a fossil fuel industrial zone. We moved to Wood County.
A Minnesota chapter of Interfaith Power and Light (IPL), sent me an e-mail inviting me to attend the Treaty People Gathering (TPG), an event to be held in early June to protest a pipeline that continues the environmental racism waged against Indigenous people to benefit multi-billion dollar oil and gas companies. All meals would be provided and camping facilities were available. I jumped at the invitation because I love to eat, I enjoy camping and I was fully vaccinated. The more essential reasons were: I love water more than oil and I am deeply concerned about what Earth’s climate will be like when my grandchildren are my age if the production of fossil fuels is not reined in. The climate crisis is not just a tragedy, it is a crime. Big Oil is the most corrupt and dangerous industry on the planet. This industry has known for decades what it would do to our planet and their response has been public disinformation campaigns and lobbying to block climate action. I tried to think of a reason to miss this event but I couldn’t. All of the required elements were available: interest, time, health and money. It seemed important to be among those attending.
Ojibwe/Cherokee is the colonial term for the indigenous people known as Anishanaabe who occupy northern areas of so-called Minnesota. Several treaties were signed with the Ojibwe. In this situation, the Treaty of 1855 is most often mentioned. Pipelines already criss-cross Anishanaabe territory. This particular fight is against Line 3, a pipeline owned by Enbridge, a Canadian company. Enbridge claims that because this project is a “replacement” pipeline, an environmental review is not warranted and Minnesota agrees.
In fact, the leaky section of the pipeline is not being removed at all and will be kept in the ground. The replacement pipeline, which incidentally would expand tar sands oil production by 20 percent, is taking a completely different route through the (one wonders if it is intentional!) pristine Minnesota lakes of the White Earth Reservation, where wild rice grows and has been harvested by the indigenous residents for generations. The legacy of the Anishanaabe involves the prophecy that their people would settle where “food grows on the water.” They see themselves and all who support their movement as “water protectors.” In addition to the continued destruction climate change is causing to the planet, their argument against pipelines is one of treaty rights and the fact that our Constitution recognizes treaties as “the supreme law of the land.”
The TPG included a ride share network and I opt to join a group of ten who will be departing from Philadelphia in a rental van and are willing to stop in Pittsburgh to pick me up. After 2.5 days of travel, we arrive in time to set up camp before the opening ceremony/orientation and the first group meal where attendees line up in categories which include vegan, vegetarian and omnivore. The next day is a “training” day. It starts with speeches (i.e. treaty rights) then activities dependent on the involvement chosen; “red” willing arrest, “yellow” might be arrested and “green” no arrest. All participation was equally important to the three separate events planned for three separate locations the following day. Groups for each of the sites practiced various strategic crowd movements and chants. Our final instructions are to board vehicles at 7:45 a.m. the following morning, Monday, June 7, the Day of Action.
Early the next morning, Enbridge employees voluntarily leave when small groups of protesters peacefully overtake each location. By the time vans later drop off additional protesters, the serious folks had chained themselves to various pieces of equipment. Long-time leader of an indigenous-led anti-pipeline group, Winona LaDuke, a Harvard educated Environmental Attorney and founder of Honor The Earth, gave an inspiring speech at the pumping station as did her good friend Jane Fonda and then both were off to march at the mouth of the Mississippi with Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org.
A few protesters tore down posters proclaiming Enbridges’ concern for the environment, but no one damaged any equipment. The intention was to disrupt the daily operations and bring attention to the general public across the USA and the globe that not only are Treaties being ignored but the climate crisis is urgent and real. Many media outlets were present to cover the events. Throughout the day the protesters chanted, erected barricades, ate snacks and stayed hydrated.
In the evening, three busloads of police, in full riot gear, from both the County Sheriff’s Department and State Police arrive at the pumping station. The remaining protesters, those who planned to be arrested, linking arms and chanting, faced the line of police. A couple of brutal arrests were made. Crews for the police arrived to unchain the 20 or so individuals from the equipment. By the time these individuals had been unlocked, handcuffed and placed in police vans amid the supportive cheers of the crowd, it was twilight and darkness descended quickly. Police cars with lights glaring surrounded the final crowd of about 200 who had linked arms and sat down awaiting arrest. Because County jails quickly filled to capacity, the final group of arrested protesters were handcuffed, received a citation and immediately released.
Please contact President Biden and let him know the people protecting the water are not the criminals in this situation; the real criminals are the government and pipeline company harming the planet.