I spent last week in northern Minnesota with a camp of Water Protectors along the Mississippi River. The Indigenous, women-led movement is currently working to stop construction of the Line 3 oil pipeline.
I went, specifically because I wanted to learn more. I went because I want to get better at hearing Indigenous voices. I went because I have heard the Water Protectors called radical, and I’ve been around the block often enough to know that when that word is tossed about, there is probably some uncomfortable truth in their presence that the status quo might like you to ignore.
Line 3 is mostly idle at the moment. The mud season of spring makes it difficult for heavy equipment to work in the boggy landscape. The line is in the ground for much of the 300+ mile route, but they are preparing to cross the Mississippi River, just north of the Water Protector camp. It is one of almost two dozen river crossings on the route.
While the oil company frames the work as the replacement of an existing line, the Water Protectors will tell you that it is an expansion, with a new route, and a larger 36” diameter pipe that would carry tar sands oil out of Alberta, a particularly environmentally dirty source of energy.
The Water Protectors will tell you that the pipeline passes some environmentally fragile land. It crosses the headwaters of our largest river. It crosses Indigenous territories and threatens rights promised by an 1855 treaty.
So the camp is there to protest this particular pipeline. To bear witness to the construction process. To participate in direct actions to slow the work. To lead public protest to raise awareness. To partner with lawyers to challenge the legality of the project.
But the Water Protectors are also there to be in community. To live simply. To support one another. To pray. To exercise treaty rights. To live more connected to the earth and more closely with one another.
Maple sapping had just ended and the camp dismantled the evaporator they had used to reduce the sap to maple syrup. I learned that the traditional measure of when the season is coming to a close is not wrapped in a clock and calendar but in the signs of white moths showing up in the sap bucket and the first singing frogs of the warming spring.
I walked through the woods to the sounds of drumming. We shared meals. We sat around the fire and told stories. And laughed. Mostly, I listened.
People in the camp came from different places and for different reasons. There were young and old. Men and women. Indigenous and allies. I did a half dozen long-form interviews and I’ll share those over time. We also did a small studio series and asked, “What has called you here?”
This is what people shared.