My heart is very heavy today after meeting these dignified, quiet, and very generous of spirit people on their property yesterday. Robin Koon bought this land from his brother after he passed away 15 years ago. His brother, Roger Lyle Koon, bought the property almost thirty years ago. Robin bought the property to spend the rest of his life in peace. There were power lines overhead, so he assumed no one would ever do anything with his land or the abutting marshlands. He felt it would be a suitable place to bury the ashes of five family members who have passed away in the past fifteen years, because they would be sheltered by the trees and serenaded by the songs of birds. Now, thanks to Spectra Energy, NextEra Energy Inc. (the owner of FPL), Duke Energy, and the Sabal Trail Pipleline, there is no peace for Robin, his mother, or their deceased relatives.
Yesterday, workers came and began clearcutting Robin's property right near the ashes of his relatives. Robin was offered $1,400 for part of his 2-acre tract of land. Robin had thrown the notices they sent him in the trash, because he was so insulted by the small amount of money they were offering for what they were going to do with his land. He did not want to sell this portion of his property or live with a dangerous pipeline that might explode so close to where he lives. An eminent domain lawsuit was brought against him. Robin told me that lawyers will only represent you if you are willing to sell. They want to be assured of making money.
Robin told me to turn around from where I was standing by the downed pine trees. Just beyond the stakes, where the vegetation is located, is where his five relatives' ashes are buried. Last month, Robin asked that the pipeline be rerouted 50 yards away (http://www.gainesville.com/news/20161016/levy-county-familys-ashes-are-in-pipelines-path). His pleas were disregarded. Yesterday, he went out and tried to protect these burial sites. They told him they would take him to Federal Court if he stopped the trucks, even though this all occurred on his own property and he never signed anything giving them the right to use his land. He told me they specified Federal Court, since he is a school bus driver and bus drivers are not allowed to hire attorney's in Federal Court.
The five relatives who are buried in this area right next to the downed trees include Robin's father, Charlie Ralph Koon, who served in the Vietnam War but never took any benefits afterwards. Also buried here are his brother Roger Lyle Koon (the original purchaser of the property, who also served in the Air Force); Jacob Brown, his brother-in-law; Tony Burn's, his wife' son who was only 32 when he passed; and James Anthony, another relative who served in World War II. We fail to remember that so many indigenous people have served in our armed forces and still we allow their ashes to be disturbed over and over again for the pipelines that as Robert F. Kennedy said yesterday, are being put in so we can export dirty energy to poor countries because the power companies know that they will have to switch to renewables in our country soon. They still need somewhere to send the oil and gas they keep taking out of the ground to maximize their profits, even though extraction and the pipelines both pose great risks to our environment and the health of the citizens of this country through explosions and drinking water contamination.
Robin is not a trouble maker or a hard core activist or any of those things. He is a good man, a bus driver, a gentle and kind man who takes care of his very sweet mother. He never wanted to draw attention to himself or enter the social media arena, but he had to get help and still they plowed through his land. He showed archeologists at the University of Florida Indian artifacts found on this property, but their hands were tied if they did not find these objects themselves Robin told me. He asked for help to protect his property, but he asked for peaceful help. He wrote to supporters, "I do not want anyone standing in front of bulldozers or anything close to it...What I do want is for you to start getting in front of your local officials, your mayor, your county commissioners... permit office and so on and find out what they are doing for you, why they are not fighting this." Robin, the water protectors at Standing Rock, and indigenous people everywhere whose land is being threatened are not breaking the law. The energy companies are the ones that are not abiding by treaties and are disregarding people's property rights.
Though Robin is a member of the North Central Wacassassa tribes in Florida, he has willed his land to the Lakota and they sent him these signs. The people doing the clearcutting left this tree standing, but downed others nearby. This whole area is important land to the Seminoles and it has great historical significance. A mile to the right, along the power line route, is an area they refer to as Station Pond because it was the site of the old stagecoach station. Robin has walked beneath the power lines that lead to Station Pond looking for artifacts before they are destroyed by the pipeline construction, but they run him or anyone else who tries this off. This is the same disrespect for indigenous ancestors that I witnessed at Standing Rock when they dug through important archeological and grave sites there.
Here is another closeup of where the ashes of relatives lie. You can see how close these burial sites are to the clearcutting route. Yesterday was a very upsetting day for Robin. I was sorry I was not there with him and his mother when the destruction occurred. (I went to a press conference on this very same pipeline in Valdosta Georgia and saw the site of where drilling mud leaked into the Withlacoochee River. A separate post on that will be forthcoming). Truthfully, it might have been too much for me to bear. I can only imagine how Robin felt. Standing there in the late afternoon, I felt the melancholy and despair that he, the land, and all the creatures living and departed are no doubt experiencing now. Their universe has been irreparably disturbed.
When Robin pleaded for his relative's ashes to be left alone, they told him they would clean it up and put the top two inches back, or something absurd like that. I can't remember exactly how he said they worded it. They told him they would put him in jail if he stood in front of them on his own property to protect these remains. In the end they conceded and moved the route the distance shown between the stakes. Two of Sabal Trail's security cars and two sheriff's cars accompanied the workers. When questions were asked by reporters, it was disclosed that the sheriffs were off duty. How was it right for them to be using law enforcement cars when they weren't working? These tactics of intimidation are rampant in our society right now. I told Robin I wished I could so something more useful to help him and everyone else whose lives are being disturbed on the front lines of these projects, but all I can do is share this story.