Spirit Water-Broken Water; A Drink of Leadership For the Ages

Poetically, it is the life blood of the Earth. Vitally, it easily trumps oil as our number one resource. Commonly, it is just boring, old water.  Our continued blind-eyed indifference, however, has put Earth in the waiting room for a transfusion. Or have we already accepted and doctored the equivalent?

A strong voice for water; Chief Leslee White-Eye of Chippewa of the Thames First Nation is a symbol of strength and truth in Canada.

That’s what Chief Leslee White-Eye of Chippewas of the Thames First Nation suggests. At a fundraiser I was recently privileged to attend, she reminded us that we used to be able to drink water from the stream or lake where it flowed in our lakes and rivers.

With passive acceptance of huge, costly treatment plants, water filters and the like, we’ve unwittingly gone along with the chronic devastation of our water sources and supplies. It’s chronic because daily disasters continue. I’m not just talking about pipelines. Our railways; Lac Megantic. Our oceans; Deep Water Horizon. Our roads; daily tanker crashes. All of these spew millions of litres of gas and oil into our watersheds and upchuck bazillions of burned vapours of fuel into our atmosphere.

It’s not likely that a fireball is going to burn anyone to a crisp (although one almost sizzled me when I was a toddler; see photo). It’s the near impossibility of cleansing petrochemical residues that can act, react and interact with living organisms (you, me, Kermit, Fozzie, etc.) in detrimental and complex ways, reminiscent of the walls of John Nash’s shed (Beautiful Mind).

At 3:15am, March 1st, 1973 a truck carrying 11,400 gallons of fuel crashed into our front yard. Miraculously, we all escaped. After supposed cleanup by the company responsible, six months later my Dad lit the front yard on fire with a single match. Oh, just to the right of the house is a creek and pond that run directly into Lake Simcoe…where much of this fuel I’m sure flowed.

I didn’t intend to just gloss over pipelines. This is where I recently met Chief Leslie White-Eye. We weren’t huddled in a crowd trying to stay warm together at Standing Rock (those courageous souls). I was fortunate to be inside and warm listening to Chief White-Eye and six other amazing women (and one remarkable young man) pour their hearts out over our local, largely unknown Standing Rock of sorts, infamous Pipeline #9. 

At 3:15am November 21st, 2016, a truck carrying 18,000 litres of fuel crashed on a highway in Michigan not too far from my home in London, Ontario. Too  common.

Leaders like Chief White-Eye, dedicated Elder Myeengun Henry, and many informed activists remind us, this isn’t just a thing of the present  that we’re dealing with. This is where the story strays a bit from Standing Rock.

Pipeline #9 is already built. In fact, it’s a relic, at the very end of its life expectancy (40 years).  At a late stage in the process, however, 12,961 structural deficiencies had been identified along its 800 km (500 mile) stretch from Sarnia across Ontario to Montreal, Quebec. For about a year now, Enbridge has recently dramatically increased the flow rate and capacity to pipe crude. Enbridge has also claimed that upgrades have made all of these deficiencies on the line safe, despite its age.

Hmmm. Cow bingo anyone?  GOING TO BREAK. Will Line #9 bust open in one of the 99 towns or 14 indigenous communities through which it runs? Or will it rupture into a tributary of Lake Ontario or the Ottawa River? pipeline-map
Working with the cast of Beautiful Mind a little further, what might my figurative friend ‘Charles’ (actor Paul Bettany), John Nash’s fictitious second-guessing friend, have said to all this?

Charles: “Hey, let’s slow down here, you activist writer! Your words are based on total emotion. Was all water always pure, unsoiled and potable?”

Me: “Oh, hi Charles. I didn’t see you there. Are you next going to remind me that the Earth has heated and cooled over the history of millions of years and thus climate change is natural?”

Charles: “Very funny. You get along with treated water just fine. I don’t see you driving an electric car. You can’t say any of this without changing your ways first!”

Me: “Yah, I know. I could do much better. But do we have to be sparkling clean before we can state an obvious need for change?”

Rupt pipeline.jpg
A ‘mildly’ ruptured pipeline in an urban setting.

Charles: “You spout off for something that hardly affects anyone! How many people do you know who have died from contaminated water?”

Me: “None personally, but…”

Charles: “Exactly. Water is currently clean enough and never was pure everywhere and you know it. There were natural tar pits leaching into lakes and rivers. There are lakes of CO2 that can randomly kill someone just by being there at the wrong time. …”

Me: “I get it….but that’s not the point. Even in the purest of locations it wouldn’t have taken the wise words of a Native Elder to avoid drinking the water downstream from where a bear had just lightened his load. I’m saying: ‘Let’s not suck drinking water from our swamps and….let’s chase the bears outta the rivers, scaring them back into the woods where everyone knows bears otta go!”

At 1:15am, July 6th, 2013 a 74 car freight train loaded with crude oil derailed in Lac Megantic, Quebec, killing 47. Oil spills are killing us directly from every mode of transportation, from every direction, polluting ground aquifers, water bodies, soil, and our atmosphere. Have we had enough yet? Are these these the moments in time that define our lives, or are the millions of moments in between when we make passive choices leading up to such atrocities?

I joke a bit about the difficulty in the internal dialogue we may have with our conscience (or invisible friends) that can often pull us in different directions. This occurs because these conversations are important and are often hard as hell. When we speak about something needing to be changed we’re vulnerable, as we’re open to criticism and sometimes alienation from the majority protecting the status quo.

Given what’s at stake, I think we need to start getting a little more uncomfortable. For example, there’s even more hot sauce to add to this potential ring of fire coming down the pipes. Sections of Pipeline #9 carry bitumen; a petrochemical much more dangerous to our water supply as it consists of many more impurities like nitrogen, sulfur and heavy metals.

Chief White-Eye and her strong colleagues have been on a mission. By law, First Nations communities must be consulted before any ventures can occur in Traditional Territories. Not one word of a consultation ever happened. Turned down once in a lower court, Chief White-Eye and her community are going to the Supreme Court in Ottawa on the 30th of November 2016. One First Nation against an energy giant (Enbridge), the National Energy Board and the Attorney General. If they lose, they will have to pay for legal fees of Enbridge (hundreds of thousands).

A recent pipeline expert predicted that Pipeline #9 has about a 90% chance of rupturing somewhere within the first five years. Who will fully pay for it then? We will. The environment will (likely over hundreds, if not thousands of years).

I only got a few moments of Chief White-Eye’s time as she was swept away with the tide of people wanting her energy.  Her battle is not just for one community; it’s for all residents of this country and beyond.

Fundraiser for Chippewas of the Thames battle at Supreme Court of Canada against Enbridge, the National Energy Board and the Attorney General. Without props, notes or PowerPoint (thankfully), this mix of Native and ‘Settler’ speakers spoke passionately from the heart on keys issues of water protection and their personal journeys to stop Pipeline #9. N’Amerind Friendship Centre, London, ON. Sat. Nov. 19 2016.

I have the sense that she gets strength from water itself. I also sense that she feels, as I do, that water is alive. It breathes. It expands, contracts and overcomes barriers in every direction by following natural flow. Water is seemingly magic; if you try to burn it, it becomes invisible and disappears into the air around you. If you banish it to the cold, it shapeshifts again. Water also lives across millions of years, moving from one body to another, cycling down through the Earth, up to the high reaches of the sky. Occasionally, water becomes a key part a plant or an animal for a few moments to thousands of years.

After inspiration from what might be called the modern day water defenders/warriors, I feel as though I’ve been like a thick and immovable sediment for too long. I feel complacent for accepting  ‘progress’ and it’s unspoken taboos. From ‘Wolf to Poodle,’ in well less than Seven Generations, the majority of us have passively accepted water’s domestication. We have observed the saturation of spirited, clean water with minerals, metals, muds, and sheer toxic madness. Effectively along the way, we may have just broken wild water’s spirit.

2015-11-08 00.51.29

Or have we? For as we know, we are mainly water ourselves. Perhaps the most spirited of the water around today speaks up strongly within people like Leslee White-Eye. We need to call all remaining spirited water within us.

Actions of conservation, wise treatment, protection and gratitude in honour of water are well within our personal reach. How do we get off oil? What are the baby steps? How do we talk about this with purpose, strength and kindness, vs. in your face and in a lecturing manner? The answers are there for the seekers (next blog – Ten Easy Steps to Break Our Addiction to Oil). This is how we reverse the tide to stand up for our most critical resource, the life blood of the Earth, our bodies, and the blood of what defines our planet.

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