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Water Symposium

Grand Traverse Band Hosts Water Symposium, Friday, May 19, 2017

Leelanau Sands Casino, Suttons Bay, MI

by Sylvia McCullough

Tribal Chairman, Sam McClellan, opened the water symposium hosted by the Grand Traverse Band of Chippewa and Ottawa Indians on Friday evening with a plea for community support in protecting the water of the Great Lakes. A water ceremony was conducted by tribal women who sang and prayed for preserving the purity of our water for future generations and the world. After the blessing, water was distributed to the audience.

Sault St. Marie Ojibwa Tribal Chairman, Aaron Payment, spoke of Governor Snyder’s failure to seriously consider the threat Line 5 presents to our Great Lakes water. He feels that the Governor’s appointment of company sponsored studies have been designed to slow down efforts to deal with the aging pipeline. He feels the question is, will Line 5 be shut down before or after it breaks? He explained that a major break would shut down more than half of the tribe’s fishing industry as well as shutting down municipal water supplies for many cities that line the Great Lakes. Thirty-four percent of Michigan’s tourism industry originates in northern Michigan which would be disrupted. The costs of a spill are high as he envisions that business bankruptcies would ensue. Taxpayers will have to absorb the cost of people drawing unemployment insurance. Payment said he feels the state has no intention of shutting down the line, and that the public must demand Line 5 be shut down.

There are good things that have come of the Line 5 controversy according to Tribal Councilman Percy Bird. He feels it has sparked unity between tribal nations, sport and tribal fisherman who have not always seen eye-to-eye on the subject, and tribes and nearby communities demanding the shutdown of Line 5. He sees that determination to shut down the line on a statewide level has risen. He declared that “this is not Standing Rock where politicians and Big Oil could hope protectors would just go home. We are home. We are Michigan. Don’t roll the dice with our Great Lakes. Keep fighting the good fight.”

The issue has bipartisan support, said Michigan Senator Rick Jones of the 24th District. He estimates that 40 million people drink Great Lakes water. 56 billion gallons are used every day for drinking, agriculture and industry so jobs are in jeopardy as well. Citing a University of Michigan study, the Senator said that if polluted with an oil spill, Lake Michigan would take 99 years to purify. He stated that Enbridge has alternative lines. The Senator has introduced SB 292 that would have the line inspected by a truly independent entity, and would prohibit further lines from being built under the Great Lakes. He says the bill has bipartisan support but not enough. “We are up against Big Oil which is spending a lot of money in hopes of keeping the line open.” He stressed the importance of the public keeping up pressure on legislators and the Governor to shut the line down.

In a moving and inspirational speech, Michigan State Representative Yousef Rabhi, shared that his awareness of the damage oil spills in water create was heightened after witnessing the aftermath of an oil spill in California. Even after the clean-up, the beach was still full of oil. Mounds of black tar were everywhere. He knows we all want healthy ecosystems in our state. But he cautioned that the path to get there will require struggle for many years to come. Times now seem very dark, but despite our current situation, he feels that it is a fight we can win by working together. Struggle is a difficult process, but he believes the arch bends toward justice. “We can’t give up because our kids are depending on us. Some of what we are doing here will transcend our lifetime and pass on to our children to take up our work now begun. Do not lose hope. Do not fear Big Oil. In the end, we will persevere.” Representative Rabhi has introduced HR 51 that would shut down Line 5 entirely, which along with Senator Jones’ bill SB 292, deserves our support.

Along those lines, Eric Keller, Traverse City Coordinator of the League of Conservation Voters, shared methods of engaging elected officials by calling, writing, faxing and inviting them to speak. He suggested joining a coalition like Oil and Water Don’t Mix, the League of Conservation Voters, or Flow. “We must insist on government transparency and accountability. Persuade our local leaders to put pressure on our elected representatives as well as visit their offices. There is a need to educate lawmakers on the issue. We can do that. They do listen.”

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