The rise of “Water Protectors”

North America is currently the scene of protests that aim to protect water from international polluting projects.
Signs explain that there was no consent by the people to go ahead with contaminating the river. Ph: Cassie Piccolo

For several tumultuous months, Standing Rock in North Dakota (US) has ignited a collective movement to defend natural spaces from senseless contamination. People of all creeds – from Indigenous peoples across Turtle Island to war veterans– have gathered together to protect bodies of water that are under threat at the hands of heedless corporations. Beyond Standing Rock, many people, inspired by these movements, have taken their own stand against pollution because solidarity promotes feelings of empowerment in everyday citizens.

Activists, now widely classified as Water Protectors, have expanded across North America. They aim to stop the wrongdoings of the corporations carrying out pipeline, fracking and salination work for the extraction and storage of oil and natural gas. Some argue that taking these matters to court would bring justice to local victims. However, the effects of negatively impacting the environment can be immeasurable and are irreversible – factors that monetary compensation cannot repay. That’s why Water Protectors are defending nature proactively and directly.

From the Water Protectors of the newly-approved Trans-Pecos and Comanche Trail pipelines between Texas and Mexico to the Water Warrior Collective against Spectra Pipelines in New Jersey, protectors are increasingly succeeding in their efforts. Halting construction is important before the damage has already taken place.

In Oka, Quebec, The Women’s Lockdown against the Trans-Northern Pipeline has been blocking access to an existing pipeline running through habitats and several waterways that are adversely affected by the project, demanding its closure.

Bakken Oil Fields – the same company responsible for the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) – are being denied access to their fracking equipment as Water Protectors block the train tracks to their desired route. The Olympia Stand in Washington is currently unable to carry out its procedures.

The Pacific Connector Pipeline in Salem, Oregon, has activists marching and staging sit-ins to get the message across to government officials that the pipeline should be denied officially, without extensions to consider a permit. The pipeline has been stalled instead of cancelled, frustrating concerned residents.

Meanwhile, in cities across North America civilians are protesting against government approvals to fund Spectra and Trans Canada on a 3.6 billion dollar project. The contracts plan to build pipes from the US into Mexico, where energy demand is increasing.

The Mohawk Warrior flag is a symbol of asserting authority over traditional lands. Ph: Cassie Piccolo

Recently the Canadian government has approved plans for the Keystone XL Pipeline, spanning nearly 2000 kilometers from Northern Alberta to the Gulf Coast of Texas. It would cross several large rivers and be situated dangerously close to drinking supplies for millions of Americans. Protests against the construction have already begun in large cities.

Thanks to the Protectors’ successes, a ballooning number of action against big oil companies has been taking place in North America during the past year.  Those actions include lockdowns, demonstrations, blockades, banner drops and other direct action methods, and they allow big efforts on smaller defense movements. What is important and hopeful to keep in mind is that the fight against pollution continues to expand, even on a small scale.

In Fort Ellis, Nova Scotia (Canada) an ongoing protest is taking place led by Mi’kmaq activists, local residents and fishers. Its purpose is to stop the proposed natural gas storage project of the Alberta-based Alton Gas company. The project would entail that, through a process involving a water-pumping pipeline that flushes out underground caverns, natural salty brine is flushed from the caverns and sent back into the river. The massive caverns would then be used to store up to billions of cubic feet of natural gas.

Water Protectors in Nova Scotia, including the environmental group Ecology Action Centre, worry that there is threat of negatively affecting the Shubenacadie river. They believe the levels of salt that would pour into the river will be toxic for the fish and surrounding wildlife. The disruption of the caverns will also irreversibly impact the levels of the channel and tides in the region. Flushing the caverns would require the use of 10, 000 cubic metres of water every day in that phase of the project.

Treaty Truck House, overlooking the Shubenacadie river just after high tide. Ph: Cassie Piccolo

A lodge at Shubenacadie’s shoreline, dubbed the Treaty Truck House, is decorated with activist banners and art pieces. It sits adjacent the water, where some of the highest tides in the world surge through on a daily basis. A narrow dirt road and a journey over a mud hill leads to the camp. Persistent Water Protector Dale Andrew Poulette from Eskasoni First Nations watches over the site. He tells Words in the Bucket that he has come to the site for “My children, their children and the future children”. With the aid of other supporters, the lodge is kept stocked with food and firewood for the coming months.

Mi’kmaq fishers have been using the river’s waters to catch fish for centuries, and know that disruptions to natural cycles of the water will harm the animal and plant life in the area. “The brine salt will wipe out all the fish eggs, larvas, roots, stems, plants, seeds, medicine and most importantly a way of life- fishing.” Dale explains. Under treaty rights, Mi’kmaq are lawfully entitled to fish the waters year-round.

Dale’s confidence reflects that of many who are now battling together to keep the waters safe. People of all ages, entire families and locals have come to the site to protect one of the essential components of life. “Water protectors, grandmothers and other supporters will all help together to win these wars” Dale asserts. By the looks of it, this prediction holds true. Various protests across North America are still gaining steam and standing up victoriously for the health of the water.

Cassie Piccolo

Cassie graduated from the University of Guelph, Canada, with a degree in Biological studies and Fine Arts. She has worked with Organic Food organizations, Food Not Bombs, worked with the Sierra Club, is experienced in sustainable agriculture and landscape architecture, and most recently attended the COP21 Climate Summit in Paris. She has been a front-line activist, fighting alongside Indigenous and rural communities against fracking in Canada. In spare time she writes poetry, paints, and hangs out with her massive bear-dog.
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    Words In The Bucket is a team of global citizens with the common goal of raising awareness and information about issues related to human rights protection, social inclusion, development and environment.

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