Standing with Standing Rock: water is life

Last year, I participated in the Western New York portion of the Walk for a Nuclear Free Future. That is a walk that occurs every five years, when the United Nations reviews the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty. The portion of the walk that I joined started in downtown Buffalo and ended at Sunset Bay, on the shores of Lake Erie. This walk of 67 miles took a week. On the last two days of the walk, we became part of another walk, the Water is Life walk, that starts at the Seneca Nation’s Cattaraugus territory and ends at Sunset Bay. We were following the course of the Cattaraugus Creek to the place where it joins Lake Erie. We vigiled outside of the West Valley Demonstration Project, which, Agnes Williams of the Seneca Nation said, has been dumping weapons grade nuclear material in the creek since 1964.

Today, I went to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers facility in Buffao and joined a group that was supporting the water protectors in North Dakota. The Standing Rock Sioux are trying to stop construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline on their territory. This pipeline, currently under construction, would carry oil from North Dakota to Illinois. It is charged that work on the pipeline has proceeded, even though the company, Dakota Access LLC, a subsidiary of Energy Transfer Partners LP, does not have a permit. The company has hired private security firms. There have also been numerous police agencies to protect the company’s interests. The National Guard has also been activated. The United Nations and Human Rights Watch have announced that they are sending officials to investigate allegations of human rights violations in North Dakota.

A group of Senecas had traveled to Standing Rock recently. Joe Hill said that he had first visited Standing Rock 25 years ago. He was told, “You can’t be on the road at night. They took care of me.” He went back this year to visit. He talked about a truck that was bringing six kayaks to Standing Rock. “The people got arrested,” he said.

The camp was locked down. The violence aimed at the water protectors has been intense, Joe said. A horse was killed. An armed worker shot seven rounds into the air and pointed his weapon at people. People have been pulled out of sweat lodges. A grandma was hit in the stomach with a baton for having a prayer stick.
“Our youth are energized. People are getting maced and they are smiling because they are protecting the earth and the water. The protectors are there in peace and prayer. It’s hard to do that,” Joe said.

“Once you’ve awakened yourself to the reality of our people and the need to stand together, you can’t go back.”

Al White, who went to Standing Rock, said that the elders said, “Keep your hands by your side and pray. Some people went to the front lines. Everyone was surrounded. A girl was trying to help a little boy, who had lost his grandma. The police smashed her wrist. Everyone was arrested. They were kept in dog kennels, covered with plastic tarp. They were stripped and abused.”

“This is the American holocaust that no one talks about,” said Agnes Williams. “We are Indians, and we are invisible.”

Agnes said, in 1970, the Missouri River was not polluted.
“It was sacred. We want to keep it clean.”

“We must stand for aboriginal rights.”

 Maria Maybee spoke to the group that was assembled to support the water protectors in North Dakota. Maria described herself as a water walker. With other walkers, she walks from the nuclear waste facility to Sunset Bay. “Every step is a prayer. We are not feeding the black snake. Some of our people are sick. There is a direct correlation to the waste. None of us agreed to have these sites ruin our water.” 

Maria told her story last year. “I was born in the 1960s. I belong to the heron clan (of the Seneca Nation). I went fishing in the creek. I ate the berries (from near the creek) and the fish. The creek was my playground and my refrigerator. Twenty years later, I was sick with diabetes and with problems with my immune system.”

The health of the creek is very personal, said Maria. “I’ve lost family members to cancer and to auto immune diseases. The fish are sick. The plants are sick. The water is sick. We walk for water.”

“Put positive energy out. We can heal ourselves. It’s why we walk. It helps us heal our waters,” Maria said.

Sam George is a Cayuga chief. He talked about the damage to water, from the east to the west coast. “We are the protectors the the land and water.”

Heron Simmons, who is the chair of the Western New York Peace Center’s racial justice committee, said that we must stand with the Standing Rock Sioux against the exploitation of indigenous peoples.

We walked to the water. As Al White put it, “We have it made here.” We faced no violence from the security guards at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers facility. The weather was gorgeous. We were able to honor the water in peace.

We celebrated the water with songs, and we danced. 

We were reminded that the danger that could come from pipelines is not just far off in North Dakota. The danger is right here. It is the danger of leaking pipelines. The pipelines that traverse rivers could leak oil into the rivers, poisoning the water.

We were told, “You can’t drink oil.”

The Northern Access pipeline is being planned. It would carry fracked gas from Pennsylvania to Canada. It would cross the Niagara River. Connected to the Niagara River are 183 streams and 270 wetlands.

After the rally, I took the bus back to Buffalo. I walked over Woods Creek, which is a tributary of the Niagara River. This is my river world. Maria Maybee said, “When you protect indigenous water, you protect your own water.”

Water is life. We truly cannot live without it.

3 thoughts on “Standing with Standing Rock: water is life”

  1. Beautiful job! I looked for you at the end, we would have taken you home! Wanted you to come to lunch with us. Love you sweet Alice!

  2. Thank you. This is a very stirring call to action.There is so much wrong present in this crisis.

    In some ways it is like cruelest culture the mid-19th Century has been resurrected, glued to the present, and the Government is now fumbling its way to disastrous consequences that can harm for generations.

    I can do little but support in my modest way but the enormity of the lingering unsettled wrongs with the extreme reaction of the authorities informs us our American Culture is not much more civilized in 130 years. Just more impersonal.

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