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ON THE SCENE: Locals fighting for clean water

April 6, 2017
By NAJ WIKOFF , Lake Placid News

How important is clean water to you? Are you concerned about the quality of the water in Mirror Lake, Lake Champlain and the Great Lakes?

Are you bothered that as a consequence of mercury present in acid rain it's not safe to eat more than one fish a week caught in our lakes and streams?

Another pollutant to our water is high levels chlorine and heavy metals used to keep roadways clear in the winter, coupled with the oils and other debris left from passing cars. This poisoning of our water sources represents a threat to our health and the wildlife of our region, and to our economy, as our lakes and streams are major reasons visitors come here for recreation. What would you be willing to do to stop this threat?

Article Photos

Katie Wilson, Tom Smith, Nicky Frechette, Alan Brant, Dan Plumley
(Provided photo — Naj Wikoff)

In the fall of 2015, a group of Lakota youth founded One Mind Youth Movement to create a safe house and raise funds to engage young people in positive life-affirming activities as a means of curtailing an epidemic of 30 attempted and eight completed suicides. As part of the initiative, they decided to protest Energy Transfer Partners efforts to build the Dakota Access Pipeline through territories of the neighboring Standing Rock Sioux Nation.

If completed, this pipeline would carry half a million barrels of oil a day underneath the Missouri River. As pipelines have a history of breaking and leaking, the youth viewed this project as a threat to their and neighboring tribes' drinking water and a harbinger of even greater environmental threats throughout the nation and the world. One Mind Youth Movement leaders felt engaging youth to protect sacred water resources would provide them something meaningful to live for in contrast to the poverty, and high levels of drug, alcohol abuse and violence so present in many of their homes.

In April of 2016, One Mind Youth Movement organizers established a prayer camp near the Dakota access route for the proposed pipeline. Their numbers soon expanded drawing farmers, environmental activists, tribal elders, and chiefs from hundreds of tribes eventually amassing the largest gathering of the Native Americans since they united 141 years ago to take on Custer and the United States Army.

Four people from Keene joined this effort, first was Katie Wilson and Marie Despres, who drove out in mid-September bringing a car full of herbal medicines, blankets, food and other items they hoped would be of value. After their return, Katie along with Nicky Frechette and others decided to draw attention to TD Bank, a financial investor in the pipeline with branches in Peru and Plattsburgh. They decided to picket the bank as means of generating local awareness of Standing Rock, and to the potential danger of an oil spill by the trains carrying millions of gallons of crude along Lake Champlain.

In December, Dan Plumley flew out to the Standing Rock encampment, then over 6,000, spending the first part of his week receiving training in peaceful resistance. At the same time, Tom Smith drove out joining veterans from around the nation with the intention of forming a line between the North Dakota police and the protesters. On Thursday, March 30 the Keene Valley Congregational Church hosted a presentation by Wilson, Frechette, Smith and Plumley about their experiences.

Pastor John Sampson and Mohawk traditional elder Alan Brant opened the well-attended session. Brant, a Wolf-Clan Mohawk Indian from Ontario, extended his greetings first in the Mohawk language, and then in English. He thanked the Creator for all the people gathered, and Mother Earth for the water and all living things, everything that has a spirit which for Native Peoples includes the rocks of the Earth. Brant said everything is sacred, and spoke to the danger that the pipeline posed to water resources, which at some point in time it will leak. He felt that addressing this threat required a two-pronged approach, one to the heart, and one to the mind, which included through the wallet.

Wilson felt that Standing Rock opened the "larger conversation we all must have about money and politics, which includes global finance and capitalism." She felt that the power elite sees us not as people, but as consumers. She urged people to divest themselves of any investments they have in banks that are financing the pipeline, which includes TD, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, and JP Morgan Chase. "On the positive side, individuals have pulled over 75 million dollars from the banks thus far," she said. "What we do and how we act matters!"

On a personal note, Wilson reflected how welcomed she and Despres felt when they arrived at Standing Rock late in the night; an experience echoed later by Plumley and Smith.

"You can't grow up around here and not appreciate water," said Smith. "I drove out there not knowing quite what to expect."

The day after he arrived, he and his fellow veterans were ready to deploy, but the government had decided to require an environmental assessment by the Army Corps of Engineers negating the need.

"I couldn't help but see the value of using military personnel in operations like this," Smith said. "We get assigned a mission, and we go do it, plus there is an incredible comradery amongst veterans."

He then spoke of the danger, as he felt the "rent-a-cops" were not trained properly and could easily resort to firing on civilians if they felt overwhelmed.

"They don't know how to respond in high-stress situations," he said, cautioning on what could happen if they felt a sense of fear. "It was dangerous because these guys don't have the experience to control their emotions or weapons."

It was scenes on television of the brutal response by the police, and the company's rent-a-cops that seriously injured protestors of all ages that inspired Plumley to book his flight. "When I started seeing military guys using water cannons on people, spraying them with mace, that a young woman lost her arm, and someone else was blinded; all this by people who job is to defend us!" Plumley said. "Seeing that woke me up. I decided to come out. I thought this could be Wounded Knee all over again. I just couldn't sit by and let it happen to these people on their land for exploitive reasons."

Frechette wanted to make a difference in not such a highly confrontational way. She wanted to use the media to increase awareness of what was taking place at Standing Rock and motivate Adirondackers to become active in protecting our water sources as well. Thus, she joined the TD Bank protest in Peru and Plattsburgh.

"We got arrested, made the front page of the papers, and made a big splash," said Frechette. "We got people thinking. We are spoiled here in the Adirondacks. Most people in the world don't have access to nature like us. We need to teach the benefits of nature and living lightly on the land. Our consume, consume, consume attitude is destroying the very water we need to live."

The battle over the pipeline is now in the courts, the ballot box, and the court of public opinion. With President Donald Trump's canceling of the pipeline environmental review, urging drastic cuts to the EPA and U.S. Department of Interior, and recent rollback of regulations addressing climate change, the water protector movement launched by Native youth now has increased national significance.

Yes, we need to improve the economy, but should it be in a way that destroys the quality of life for future generations and contributes the continued die-off of thousands of species? Are we comfortable with not being able to eat any fish caught locally, and our children not being able to eat fish caught in the sea as well?

If not, maybe we need to set aside short-term gains that mostly benefit the super-rich and work towards shared solutions.



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