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LaDuke: With rivers drying up, remember: water is life

Droughts, like Minnesota’s last year, the worst in the past century, are more common. As are forest fires, and catastrophes of biblical proportions. It’s time to be a Water Protector, not hate on us. This year’s Water is Life Concert is Sunday, Sept. 4, at Bayfront in Duluth, with Ani DiFranco, Indigo Girls, Corey Medina, Low and more.

Emily Saliers of the Indigo Girls performs during the Water is Life Festival at Bayfront Park on Sunday.Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com
Emily Saliers of Indigo Girls performs during the Water is Life Festival at Bayfront Park in 2019. Indigo Girls return to the 2022 festival on Sunday, Sept. 4.
Tyler Schank / Duluth News Tribune
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The Loire River is the longest river in France. This year, the riverbed is dry for the first time in the history of people who write. That’s not the only river that is dry. The Colorado, Yangtze, Danube, Po and Rhine and are also severely depleted. That means farms have no water, fish have no water, hydroelectric dams have no water, and ultimately life is without water. That’s a result of human induced climate change, it’s not bad luck.

Droughts, like Minnesota’s last year, the worst in the past century, are more common. As are forest fires, and catastrophes of biblical proportions. Fossil fuels are at the center of it. It’s sort of like watching late-stage addicts. We just happen to be late-stage fossil fuel addicts, and bad decisions are made by addicts. It turns out that you cannot win a fight against Mother Nature.

Winona LaDuke.jpg

Take Two: We live next to Lake Superior and the Great Lakes, a fifth of the world’s water. It’s time to be a Water Protector, not hate on us. This year’s Water is Life Concert is Sunday, Sept. 4, at Bayfront in Duluth. We will miss Renee Van Nett, former Duluth City Council President who last year welcomed us to Duluth. Van Nett sent a message to work together. After all, we live on the same land and drink the same water. Her passing was a great loss to all of us.

This year’s concert brings together multiple genres, from legendary rocker Ani DiFranco and Indigo Girls to the up-and-coming legends of Corey Medina, Low, Dessa, Allison Russell, and more. They are joined by local luminaries like Annie Humphrey, Lyz Jakkola and Keith Secola; all coming out to sing for the water. More than that, about half the cast of award-winning “Reservation Dogs” intends to show up to the show, and Vogue and international supermodel Quannah Chasing Horse, who is also an outspoken Water Protector, is coming onstage and rocking to some music.

GALLERY: 2021 Water is Life concert:

Last year’s Water is Life concert was at the height of Enbridge’s full court press on the north country. By fall Enbridge prevailed in a seven-year long battle over Line 3, pitting Native people and Water Protectors against laborers and industry, brother against sister, and police against civilians. Last year, the mayors of 11 (Enbridge-friendly) towns such as Clearbrook, Thief River Falls and Bagley called on the Duluth City Council to close down the Water is Life Concert. The mayors alleged that Honor the Earth was an organization which supports violence. The Duluth City Council decided that there was a first amendment right to the concert, as well as already issued permits. It went well. Five thousand people came to Bayfront to rock for the water. Bon Iver closed the show with Bob Dylan’s “With God on Our Side.”


I am hoping she still is. We will need her.

It’s a year later, and 800 water protectors have been arrested by the police, 5 billion gallons of water were squandered for Enbridge’s drills, rivers have been contaminated with drilling fluids and aquifers continue to pour out water in a water parched world. And Enbridge, the Canadian corporation, financed $8.5 million worth of police time against people who were not violent. Water Protectors.

Enbridge is now fully engaged in work to reroute and lay pipe bringing more oil back to Canada, through Line 5. There, Enbridge is doing its best to divide tribal communities over money, and is even running a candidate for governor in Wisconsin. That’s Tim Michels, he’s the GOP’s candidate and one of the largest contractors for Enbridge. It’s all about if Enbridge can get its oil back to Canada and its refineries there. That’s right, it’s a Canadian corporation looking out for itself, not us.

"Canadian Pacific Railway wants to merge with the Kansas City Southern Railway, and that means more oil-filled trains and dangerous freight ... What if trains moved people and not dirty oil? The U.S. has the least developed passenger train system of any first world country. That’s a shame."

In the meantime, water is being sold on markets formerly reserved for gold, and the price is increasing. The world needs water. Maybe we should protect it, and conserve it. Think about the pipes we really need: water pipes. Some 50% of the water in the U.S. leaks out of old pipes. That’s failing infrastructure. That’s like when Duluth collapsed under a flood almost a decade ago, and there will be more of that ahead.

“People talk about reducing the time you take showers, but if you think about 50% of water flowing through the system being lost, it’s another magnitude,” Stanford professor Daniel Tartakovsky explained.

No matter what political party, water is always going to be life. This Sept. 4, Honor the Earth is offering free admission to defendants charged in the Line 3 cases. We promise to bring prayers, stars, music, civil rights, treaty rights and enjoyment back to the lake. And we will celebrate that Water is Life.

Winona LaDuke is executive director, Honor the Earth, and an Ojibwe writer and economist on Minnesota’s White Earth Reservation. She is also owner of Winona's Hemp and a regular contributor to Forum News Service.

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