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Wild Rice on Water

by | Aug 12, 2021 | Climate Justice | 0 comments

Part III Honoring Anishinaabe Treaties

In the tangle of human failures of fear, greed, and forgetfulness, the sun gives clarity.
… the sun is a relative, and illuminates our path.
Our earth is shifting. We can all see it.
I hear from my Yupik relatives up north that everything has changed. It’s so hot; there is not enough winter.
Animals are confused. Ice is melting.
The quantum physicists have it right; they are beginning to think like Indians: everything is connected dynamically at an intimate level.
When you remember this, the current wobble of the earth makes sense. How much more oil can be drained,
Without replacement; without reciprocity?
by Joy deHarjo

At Park Ridge MN over 100 Water Protectors have locked onto big machines to stop construction of the Enbridge pipeline. We are putting their bodies directly in the path of Line 3. Bayard Rustin, the queer civil rights organizer heralds more ‘angelic troublemakers.’ We are blocking construction like Ruby Bridges in Montgomery, like Julia Butterfly Hill in the redwoods, like LaDonna Brave Bull Allard at Standing Rock.
Grandmom Rema, myself and the pulsing sun watched police officers amassing across the field. On this day approaching the solstice, the sky bleated. The sun skipped a beat. Chills went up my sweaty spine. The police, slow as hornets crawling on a woodpile gather to the north and east of the crew of WaterProtectors. When the Enbridge workers fled early on Monday morning, did they know we are fighting to keep the waters clean? Indigenous leaders strategically asking police to honor the treaties, and sustain the life. The confrontation arises. I was happy to have Rema as old as my mother, and I’m already 65 summers old. “Was I ready?”

In the tangle of human failures of fear, greed, and forgetfulness, the sun gives clarity.
… the sun is a relative, and illuminates our path.
Our earth is shifting. We can all see it.

Did I know as a child the difference between clean and dirty water? I grew up between the Atlantic and the Chesapeake Bay. My mother had me help her teach Red Cross swimming lessons in the Choptank River. The lessons were free and 20-30 non-swimmers signed up.
“Who can put their face in muddy water?” “Blow out bubbles through your lips. Breathe.” I told Rema how growing up near to the ocean, my friends would choose swimming pools, not natural streams. “Why?” she asked. I don’t know-the sun was hotter in concrete that was dug-out. I dove with hardly a splash in deep water to retrieve a penny. You retrieve the penny and push off from the pool floor, exhaling. The bubbles break first and then your head emerges and the hand clutching the coin shoots above the head.

My father collected Indian-head pennies. How did I learn to see Indian heads as a trophy? Cowboys steal horses; pioneers get bounty for scalps; settlers break treaties and grab land. Girls dive in chlorinated pools.

Rema listens and shakes her head. I see dismay in her eyes, and grit in a clenched jaw. I spoke too much of pain. We can face police today, but how to live with the evil? How dare Enbridge poison the rivers! An elder told me last month that to renew her spirit she returns to the water. I swallow and give thanks.
Drift closer, Invisible One, swim within this stream
of catastrophic history.

Enbridge has thousands of miles of pipes from Canada. Line3 pipeline carries the greasy Tar Sands sludge to US refineries, crossing under 22 rivers in MN including twice under the headwaters of Mississippi. Pipelines spill into drinking water, and leak onto crops. This Enbridge project had over 800 spills in 15 years, including the immense spill (1.2million gallons) on the Kalamazoo River in 2010. When I went for my COVID vaccine, I drank filtered water from a 20 gallon water cooler that has thick plastic dispensers. Austin TX invented city revenue by bottling up its public water supply to sell it back to people in small plastic bottles. My head spins. I walk my thoughts away from despair. I ask Rema, “when did water become a commodity?”
I hear from my Yupik relatives up north that everything has changed. It’s so hot; there is not enough winter. Animals are confused. Ice is melting.

I understood the worst that happens in water was someone drowning. I told Rema that of my family of six kids, only my sister died in childhood.

“Did she drown?”
“ No.” Then silence.
 “When I was four my baby sister swallowed medicine that poisoned her,”I said. That family tragedy lives on.  It includes overmedicating…., gluttony…. and eating up whatever promises happiness. Enbridge is overdosing on water. It’s a crime and it’s trauma. My heart is seething.

What interesting topics arise when waiting for arrest. I tell Rema about the thrill of sailing on the rolling waves of the Choptank.

She asked, “Was it fun?”

“Yes. Harnessing the wind was also hard. I capsized the boat sometimes.” Rema commented that breathing underwater is a skill. I watch the sky.

“We don’t have lots of time.” Rema nods knowingly. I don’t ask her what she means, I don’t want to give into fear. I package up the tragedy of my sister’s death. Water is life…. is life…. life.

The quantum physicists have it right; they are beginning to think like Indians: everything is connected dynamically at an intimate level.

The police on June 7th were unprepared for the outpouring of Water Protectors. To overtake this scarred land where Enbridge could not work felt like a victory. The oil, carbon, sulfur of Tar Sands oil is harmful even before it enters pipeline 3. Maybe the Enbridge CEO Al Monaco wants it completed to justify his obtuse $17 million annual salary. Enbridge claims they are almost done with the project and they expect to finish by September. They broke the Mississippi floor bed. Drilling oil crap breached into the Willow River in July.

We were old and very young; some had long gathered skirts with ribbons; some had black lipstick, cut off shorts; some are deaf with hands flying faster than tongues. We populate the land refusing to leave, anchoring to beauty. …everything is connected at an intimate level.

I take in a few sharp inhales of breaths. The sun curled its head west. The police seem to outnumber us in their bullet-proof vests. Water Protectors faced them in T-shirts, long braids, plenty of sunglasses under broad hats. Winona wore black pants and loose hair. Her skin was the color when looking between trees in the forest. Beyond the dusty construction site with its five port-a-potties, the sun spilled flecks of light everywhere. We were a county fair. In this fair, justice is the prize.
When you remember this, the current wobble of the earth makes sense. How much more oil can be drained, Without replacement; without reciprocity?

The helicopter from Homeland Security buzzed so close sand and grit flew up skirts and on faces. Many young people yelled epitaphs at the loud locust yammering above us. The soil was whipped under our feet. Once the helicopter whip left us, a feathery sky calmed the Water Protectors. We were again comparing stories. The tooth of the backhoe and the claws of the drills were quiet. The Black Snake was throttled. Our songs and laughter cloaked the land.

Sixty police stood on top of beaten-down prairie aiming their thick chests at the festival of Protectors. They were in formation, lined up to enforce a 500 year odyssey of harassment, stolen homes, and broken treaties. How much more oil can be drained?… My mind is swimming with new faces, new languages, new knowledge. My heart held both life and death. I was weak but knew I could stand. I had community which was stronger than police riot gear.

The Anishinaabe land has bred wild rice, 2 spirits, and poets of power. Our earth is shifting. We can all see it and we can’t be stuck like pigs in quicksand. Rema says that marshes are more water than land. The wetlands are a living beating lung of life.” Rema eyes glitter. Rema has a large family, with grandsons living on Lakota land. All connection with others is tender, especially in desperate times. A person from Maine mentions that the Anishinaabe were a people that tell of their origin. Maybe a thousand years ago Native People from the East Coast had a vision, a prophetic vision. During a time of scarcity, they were told of a home for them where food grew on water. They traveled through beautiful land, and then the Great Lakes. But in the north, near Lake Superior they found wild rice on water.

It takes two police to take away each person who stayed at the Enbridge site. Denizens are arrested, led away in plastic handcuffs. Many are singing. We are unrepentant, we are wild geese in flight, we are eternal. The police hover nearby. Between songs there’s an exhale of silence. In the west, the last light laces the treeline.

I wondered how humans got in this knotty thorny mess. We need a new paradigm. MLK described this country of sheriffs and slaveholder— saying it took ‘a national policy to wipe out its indigenous population, elevating that tragic experience into a noble crusade.’ Yes, our objective is to stop construction. Yes, we are preserving the clean waterways. And we are here to find a way out of no way. We are here to honor so many treaties, to redo the damage in many ways.

Many Indigenous people understand living as a Water Protector is a Gospel. What’s the alternative to our individualistic, living with debt, grab free stuff, make-a quick-buck-lifestyle?

It takes three officers to dissemble Rema and I how we are locked to a pipe. The officers treated us super gently, with their clippers and saws. Two helped me as I wobbled up on two feet. The storm gathered to the north. In the distance was rolling thunder. The trim officer put handcuffs on me. I called in the dark, “Rema, are you okay?” Her smile assured me and told me she was exhausted. I was arrested and suddenly I was let go. about 22 were still locked down. The officer turned to arrest the next Water Protector. The singing stopped as a flash of lightning jolted the sky. Ooooh. The police left, deciding to arrest the last four tomorrow morning. Thunder came next filling the sky. The deep-throated thunder had the last word.

While I shake the rattle of ferocity …
while I burn sage and sweetgrass, and sing over you
over and over like an almighty voice from the skies
it is in that fragile light that I will love you
it is in that awakening I will love myself too.

Denise Sweet, Chippewa


This is the third of three parts which describe before the action; the action; connecting back home.

Tell President Biden to honor the treaties and stop line 3.

Poster of the river, ukulele, rice

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