On September 26, the Sault Ste Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians organized a rally on the Upper Peninsula side of the Mackinac Bridge. Tribes and concerned citizens from both sides of the bridge came out, even though the weather was pretty bleak to start.
This is what the weather looked like right before I met the group. It was drizzling and poured on us shortly after we convened on the lawn. I didn't take as many photographs as usual, as I had to keep putting my camera in the waterproof bag. The camera raincoat was not sufficient to keep it dry. My dog Takoda kept looking questionably at me, but as usual he didn't complain. Everyone was especially nice to him. One woman told me that the word for human being in their language includes all legged creatures and that Takoda was considered of equal value. No wonder the tribes want to protect our ecosystems. They recognize the harm we are causing all creatures and they believe creatures have rights too.
I mentioned to another woman in an offhand way that the weather was pretty terrible. She related a story of walking in a rally in Washington, DC that was coincidentally happening while she was in town. She had not planned on going and was wearing uncomfortable shoes. Then she reflected on all her ancestors endured. This memory probably has a lot to do with why so many indigenous people are willing to endure the harsh winter in North Dakota this year, to stand up for their way of life, their beliefs, and the health of the planet.
Why did these people endure the elements for this cause? It is because Line 5 has the potential to destroy much of the water supply in the Great Lakes, which is 20 percent of the water supply in the world. The Great Lakes also accounts for 95% of the water supply in the United States and 84% of the water supply in North America. Yet, Enbridge is risking this water supply every day and has even tried to increase this risk by petitioning to send more oil through Line 5. According to a University of Michigan computer modeling study, more than 700 miles of shoreline in lakes Huron and Michigan are vulnerable to oil spills if the 63-year old Line 5 ruptures. According to the study: "Areas at highest risk include Mackinac and Bois Blanc islands, as well as locations directly east and west of Mackinaw City. Communities also at risk include Beaver Island, Cross Village, Harbor Springs, Cheboygan, and other places along the lakes Huron-Michigan shoreline."
The potentially vulnerable areas likely extend beyond these locations, which is why all of us should be concerned. Kathy Leblanc, the woman who performed the water ceremony, said that the Great Lakes are the heart of North America. (She said the area where Sacred Stone Camp is located is the center.) Many waters on our continent circulate through the Great Lakes. We all know water is fluid and travels and circulates. It takes 6 years for water to make it back here on its journey, she told us. During that time, it will have carried whatever we put in it during its journey. The circulation of water and pollutants has been well-documented in the oceans of the planet, which is why the Rapa Nui in Easter Island test high for plastic microbeads in their blood even though they live in the middle of nowhere. Allowing the Great Lakes to become polluted is a very dangerous proposition.
On my way from Pictured Rock National Lakeshore to the Line 5 Rally, I met Jim LeBlanc. He was the second person in my travels to suggest I go to the rally. I am very glad I listened to his advice. He was so kind as to spend several hours talking to me about the water issues in the Great Lakes and on our planet, and what is happening to Native people, creatures, and all of us as a result of our failed environmental policies (I will be writing a separate blog about our visit soon). He was a great source of information about the Line 5 pipeline, and he told me some very disturbing things. The pipeline not only seeps oil into the water, it seeps benzene too, since that is what they use to clean the pipeline. Benzene is highly carcinogenic and highly soluble in water. The pipeline has already leaked in three places. The pipeline is past the end of its useful life, according to Jim and many experts. Jim was a material scientist in the marines and was trained in structural metal. The joints of Line 5 are welded, he said, which makes them naturally weaker. Then they are subject to the currents and waves of the Great Lakes, which weakens them further.
The image above shows breaking waves near the bridge. The waves are no doubt much worse doing big storms, though there were whitecaps everywhere during this milder weather event. One of the women I spoke with told me that during deep freezes or big storms, the Mackinac Bridge is closed. She said the booms for oil spills come from the lower UP side and she is concerned that there would be no way of getting booms if a spill occurred while the bridge was closed. The effects could spread much further than modeling shows if this were to happen.
This banner visually shows the interconnection of the Great Lakes. Below are more images from the rally. My apologies for any remaining visible signs of rain drops. As I mentioned before, the weather was pretty inclement at the start of the rally. It improved as the day went on, but I had to continue on my way.
The sacredness of our water was expressed to me very poignantly by a man named Adrian, whom I met while walking Agate Beach in Grand Marquis. Adrian was also the first person to tell me to attend this rally. The image below shows the pristine waters of Lake Superior and the multitude of beautiful stones polished by the waves. Adrian told me that this area was put here by the Creator for people to enjoy and connect with the elements, not for Big Oil companies to destroy. Although Line 5 does not go under Lake Superior (as it does Lake Michigan and Lake Huron), it does skirt the lake and could potentially harm these waters as well. Lake Superior, I learned on the Pictured Rocks boat ride, is larger than all the other Great Lakes plus two Lake Eries.
I had a wonderful conversation with Adrian about water and the rights of creatures and the sacredness of this precious resource. Before I left, he reached into his pocket and gave me one of the agates he found that day. I will always treasure it and our brief meeting. I carry him and all the indigenous environmentalists I met during my journey in my heart. Takoda is also grateful that his rights as a four-legged creature are recognized and championed by his Native American brothers and sisters.
Here are some links to the Michigan study and an Audubon article on the issue: