Water. We drink it. Wash in it. Wash with it. Are made of it. Who wants to think of water as a finite resource as long as we can turn the tap and get as much as we want? Yet approximately 30% of the people on this planet (2.2 billion) have no access to safe water—hence the need to protect the clean water we do have.
In January 2021, a picture book detailing the vital place of water in our world was recognized by the American Library Association as the most distinguished American Picture Book for Children published in the United States. Michaela Goade—a member of the Alaskan Tinglit and Haida Nations—contributed her evocative illustrations for Carole Lindstrom’s “We Are Water Protectors.”
Lindstrom, Anishinaabe/Metis and descendent of Turtle Mountain band of Ojibwe, wanted to issue a clarion call to save this precious resource—water—without which there is no life. And what better demographic to inspire and mobilize than our children and their families?
Lindstrom’s picture book touches on prophecy and reality. Many years ago it was foretold by Native prophets that a black snake “would wreck everything in its path.” With the advent of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), the black snake manifested as a 1,172-mile-long nightmare. Despite legal treaties recognizing Sioux national sovereignty (Treaty of Traverse de Sioux and the Treaty of Fort Laramie) which were ratified in 1851 and 1868, respectively, the United States Government failed to halt the pipelines incursion onto sacred ground and placed precious watersheds in peril.
In 2016, Indigenous protectors and their allies came together to halt the encroaching pipeline. Fighting together in freezing weather for the integrity of their ancestral lands and water, they were forced back—ironically—with water cannons.
Although the fight against the “Black Snake” was not successful, the case is in court because it has been confirmed that a key permit had not been issued, and that the pipeline is operating illegally.
The integrity of pipelines is notoriously unreliable. In Michigan there was a rupture that spewed 843,000 gallons of oil into the Kalamazoo River in 2010. The Yellowstone River in Wyoming was compromised by a 32,000 oil spill when the True Company/Bridger Pipeline sprung a leak. The Belle Fourche Pipeline leak in North Dakota added 176,000 gallons to this miserable tally.
A pipeline leak in North Dakota risks contaminating Lake Oahe—the major source of fresh water for the Standing Rock Sioux and other residents of the area—as well as local plants and wildlife.
The tragedy of this situation multiplies a thousand fold when the origin of Lake Oahe is taken into consideration. In the mid-1940s the United States Bureau of Reclamation commandeered, under the Pick-Sloan Plan, 205,994 combined acres from the Cheyenne River and Standing Rock Sioux Indian Reservations to build the artificial lake. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dammed the Missouri River, on which Native Americans have depended for millennia before the European conquest. These lost acres were comprised of prime farmland, valuable ranch land, and forest. Also, one third of the Standing Rock Sioux population lost their homesites because of this decision to use Indian land.
With the growing awareness of the catastrophic ramifications of pipeline spills on all life, the need to preserve our clean water has reached crisis levels. The Dakota Access Pipeline trespass on sacred ground underlines the petroleum industry’s disregard for the people’s right of self-determination over their own inalienable rights. On this World Water Day, the lovely and consciousness-raising book “We are Water Protectors” is a particularly relevant and necessary tool for calling all of us to action.
March 22 is World Water Day
Held on 22 March every year since 1993, World Water Day celebrates water and raises awareness of the 2.2 billion people living without access to safe water.
“Water, water, every where,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink.”
--Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”