“Water Is Life” Is Theme of Day 1 of Protests to Shut Down Enbridge Line 5

Environmental groups and Native Americans will present Enbridge Energy with symbolic eviction notices Thursday. They want the Line 5 pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac shut down.

I’m standing next to this little two-lane road in the country, and on one side is the pumping station that takes care of the products from Line 5 and sends them on their way. And across the street is this little park. And in this little park, a lot of tribal members from all over the upper Midwest and sometimes farther, and some activists from the lower peninsula of Michigan are here.

Lester Graham/Michigan Radio
Lester Graham/Michigan Radio

And, it’s been a lot of music, it’s been about people reminding each other how precious the Great Lakes and particularly the Straits of Mackinac are. Especially to the tribes in this immediate area. And if there were a pipeline rupture, it would ruin fishing in this area. It would ruin livelihoods, it would ruin the economy. And, of course, it would ruin the environment. 

Beatrice Menese’ Kwe Jackson, one of the people I talked to, comes from a tribe where the grandmothers lead the community and they are the protectors of water. 

“I am Tlingit, Tsmshian … My people are from the West Coast. They’re the totem pole people,” she says. 

She lives in Cedarville, Michigan now, but she performs ceremonies all over North America. I asked her what she expects this gathering. 

“Well, the whole slogan is water is life, and to let every human being know that they have a vested interest in keeping our water pure and clean, and this is the biggest supply of fresh water in the whole world. Every one of us, no matter what your race is or your political persuasion or anything, that we have to make sure this water is good,” she says.

Lester Graham/Michigan Radio
Lester Graham/Michigan Radio

And rather than being confrontational, some members such as Ray St. Clair think it’s about understanding. 

“As a Native American person from where I’m at, it’s time to start educating the non-Native people. The way that we can get there is peace and unity, so that’s why I came up here,” he says.

An activist who didn’t belong to a tribe has been thinking about polluted water for a while. He says he worked at a touristy island in the Gulf of Mexico. He and a lot of others lost their jobs when the BP Deepwater Horizon oil rig gushed oil for almost three months. So, he moved back to Flint, only to find another case of water being contaminated.

Aaron Block says he doesn’t trust Enbridge and its Line 5. 

“The threat of them damaging our Straits, or our drinking supply or our water, our environment, it doesn’t outweigh some fat cats making a few more bucks. That pipeline needs to stop flowing,” he says.

Lots of people took their turn telling their stories of concern about water. Doug Craven thinks about water and wildlife every day. He’s the Natural Resources Director for the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians. 

“So that pipeline has been in there for 60 years plus was rated for 50 years. There’s potential for there to be a rupture and that would be catastrophic to our way of life, our use of the water, our commercial subsistence fishing, but also the greater non-tribal community as well. And we’re very concerned about that.

Lester Graham/Michigan Radio
Lester Graham/Michigan Radio

One of the organizers of the two days of events is Nathan Wright. He’s with the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians. He says his goal is not to fight Enbridge, but to talk to people who like the jobs and money that come with the pipeline. 

He says a Native American elder recently found a Line 5 infiltrator in his group’s midst as they were about to perform a pipe ceremony. Usually they would be kicked out. 

“Well, the elder didn’t have that perspective there, like, well, they’re there to participate in the ceremony. I’m going to let them. Maybe that guy kind of something touched his heart and he said these people aren’t bad. All these things that they told us are not true. They are here peacefully and they are here to defend their lands and defend their water. Who are we to sit there and tell them they shouldn’t do this?” he says.

Wright says the gathering in Mackinaw City is more about bringing awareness to people who haven’t given the pipeline much thought. It’s also to let state leaders know there are people who care deeply about Line 5 and the damage it could do if it ruptured.  

Listen: Protesters seek to raise awareness and understanding at Line 5 protests.

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