Heavy snow blankets the North Country, now, in the short days and long nights leading into the winter solstice. It has been a challenging season in the Dakotas, Nebraska and Minnesota with biting cold and a freak September blizzard that left up to 100,000 cattle dead in their grazing fields. But bitter snows hold the promise of spring thaws that will replenish waterways and aquifers, offering life to the prairie grasses, pure streams for trout to spawn, and pristine lakes for wild rice to grow on native lands. But the water locked in the December snows is finite--a non-renewable resource--and the planet cannot manufacture new water.
Water is under assault by the plans of Big Oil in the northern plains.
Activist, orator, and former 1996 and 2000 Green Party Vice-Presidential candidate Winona LaDuke introduced a new video on YouTube this week. Produced by Honor the Earth and narrated by LaDuke, "The Triple Crown of Pipeline Rides" revisits three horseback journeys by native riders and their supporters along oil pipelines. They visited local communities situated within proposed and existing routes.
Horses walked treaty lands from the headwaters of the Mississippi River near LaDuke's home on Minnesota's White Earth Reservation; to the Alberta Clipper proposed pipeline expansion from Superior Wisconsin to the Red Lake Reservation; and finally joined with Lakota riders between Wanbli and Takini on the Cheyenne Reservation. The reservation is one of many places where the Keystone XL pipeline will cross the Ogallala Aquifer. Formed ten to twelve million years ago, the Ogallala aquifer is one of the largest in the world and stretches over 174,000 square miles beneath portions of South Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Texas. The importance of this aquifer as a source of freshwater cannot be overestimated.
LaDuke and "Lucky" (Photo: G. Nienaber)
"We are not protesters, we're protectors," La Duke says in her narrative.
"The Triple Crown of Pipeline Rides" is a sobering educational experience and spiritual journey through unspoiled treaty lands and offers an unsettling vision of the future if the oil industry uses every resource at its disposal to transport oil by any means possible. This includes aging pipelines and new ones. La Duke narrates the devastation on a farmer's field near Tioga North Dakota, where an aging six inch pipeline quietly ruptured and leaked 800, 000 gallons before anyone noticed. Proposed pipelines are 30 inches.
LaDuke's Christmas narration is Dickensian as she takes viewers through the north country's unspoiled vistas and offers visions of past, present and potentially bleak future landscapes dominated and devastated by the irresponsible practices of Big Oil.
The current Bakken boom in North Dakota is producing fracked oil with insufficient infrastructure to transport the oil to refineries. A current push involves transporting the oil by 380,000 rail cars. Christmas future is already here for the Canadian town of Lac-Megantic in Quebec, which was engulfed in a massive conflagration when The Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway's 72 Bakken oil-filled tanker cars crashed, derailed and exploded in the town center in July 2013.
"The Triple Crown of Pipeline Rides" is also a paean to Anishinaabe, Lakota, and Cheyenne ancestors in this holiday season. Especially at risk are the tribes of the Three Affiliated Nations--Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara at Fort Berthold-- who face man camps and crime in Christmas Present and the unsettling vision of a proposed refinery threatening sacred grounds and heritages in Christmas Future.
In her annual holiday letter, LaDuke writes:
This holiday season, I am thankful for this moment in time when we can reflect on the words of our ancestors - those who negotiated those treaties with such profound wisdom - and thank them for thinking of us. I am thankful for the sacred waters which hold our wild rice, our fish...our lifeblood. And I am thankful that we can continue our work to protect these waters, uphold those treaties, grow ancient seeds left to us by our ancestors, and create with our own hands and prayers a future for generations yet to come.
Under the banner of Honor the Earth, LaDuke has pledged to educate local communities about the intricacies of the regulatory process.
"Mother Earth needs us to keep our covenant. We will do this in courts, we will do this on our radio station, and we will commit to our descendants to work hard to protect this land and water for them," La Duke says.
"Whether you have feet, wings, fins, or roots, we are all in it together."
Native folk singer and Makoche recording artist Annie Humphrey provides the muted soundtrack with "The Heron Smiled," but the lyric "500 years on genocide" breaks the silence. A former United States Marine, Humphrey teaches cultural activities to youth on the Leech Lake Indian Reservation in Northern Minnesota.