This was written by Samantha Schmitz and Julie Silverman, Moms Clean Air Force interns:
On July 29, the House of Tears Carvers of the Lummi Nation arrived in DC with a 24-foot totem pole brought from Washington State, as part of a journey called the Red Road to DC, to raise awareness and create action around Indigenous rights and sacred sites. The Red Road to DC Totem Pole Journey brought community members from thousands of miles together to draw attention to climate injustices and prompt action from Secretary of Interior Deb Haaland and President Biden.
One of the attendees of the Red Road to DC event was Great Grandmother Mary Lyons, an Ojibwe elder and long-time member of Moms Clean Air Force. She has worked hard to protect children’s health from mercury air pollution generated from coal-fired electric plants and to protect Indigenous communities from many other pollution issues that impact the quality of the air, water, and lands. At the event in DC, she spoke to Elizabeth Brandt, Moms Clean Air Force Field and Special Projects Manager, about the devastating impacts that the Line 3 Pipeline will have on Indigenous communities.
Mary wore a shirt at the DC event that read, “We are here to protect. Water is life,” indicating the need for water protections, specifically regarding the push to Stop Line 3. Activists fighting against Line 3 call themselves “water protectors” as the pipeline proves to be problematic for a number of reasons, from polluting waterways to breaking Indigenous treaties.
For context, Line 3 is an aging pipeline that transports crude oil from Canada to Wisconsin. It is corroding quickly, leading to numerous leaks and spills, including the largest inland oil spill in the United States. Enbridge, the pipeline’s parent company, is hoping to rebuild this pipeline while abandoning many other sections of it. Yet this new piping would cut directly through Indigenous treaty areas and across the Mississippi River. This would increase the potential for spills to pollute a number of water sources throughout Minnesota—many of which are on Indigenous land—as well as the Mississippi River, which would have devastating consequences for communities downstream from the pipeline.
During her interview with Elizabeth, Mary explained, “These water protectors are standing up… They’re trying to say pay attention … our watersheds are being destroyed.” Hundreds of activists have gathered to Stop Line 3 throughout the summer, although there have been ongoing legal and permitting battles for years. In fact, there have been a number of recent arrests at water protector events. Mary noted that water protectors are “getting arrested left and right.” She then drew attention to the juxtaposition between the way Stop Line 3 activists have been punished compared to the slap on the wrist that most January 6 Capitol rioters received. “It’s just ridiculous how justice is turned around… because of the greed of money,” Mary says.
Unfortunately, there has been very limited media coverage of Stop Line 3 despite the pipeline’s potentially devastating impacts. Many are unaware of this massive environmental injustice, and “nobody seems to be paying attention,” Mary says. During their conversation, both Mary and Elizabeth voiced the need for climate action. Great Grandmother Mary Lyons hopes people will listen to the firsthand experiences of Indigenous communities whose lives are already impacted by the pipeline and will be dramatically worsened if its expansion continues.
Elizabeth concluded by stating, “Everyone can be a climate protector, a water protector, an air protector. Everybody can testify at the EPA, sign a petition, get to know issues in your community and take action.”