"The Ride of the Water Protectors," Winona LaDuke

"The Ride of the Water Protectors," by Winona LaDuke

“In the future, our descendants will be sitting around a fire in their lodges telling this story of when the two legged tried to destroy the earth. We are no doubt in a sacred legend that will be told for thousands of years. For whatever reasons, we have been specifically placed here on earth to participate in this incredibly sacred time.


We need to believe in what our heart tells us and to find the strength to follow it. This sacred story needs heroes and we are the chosen ones. Rise strong and never stop believing in the great power of this earth. We are completely surrounded by our ancestors
….”   Isaac Murdoch, Legend Maker, Anishinaabe Artist

The Ride is something which is legendary in our family.  Inspired by a set of dreams, for seven years, I’ve been riding on horseback along the proposed Enbridge Line 3 route, honoring water, and continuing a resistance to proposals of greed, that would destroy some beautiful places. That’s about three hundred miles of terrain, some of it scarred by three or more Enbridge pipes, but much of it untouched by Enbridge. It remains untouched because of the commitment of water protectors, landowners, tribal governments and people of Minnesota.

The Ride is about making history, not describing it later.  The Ride is along the proposed Enbridge Line 3 Route, we ride against the current of the oil, we ride for the water, for the horse nation , and for future generations. We ride together, Indigenous people from this land, Dakota and Ojibwe people together- the people whose blood and memory is here.

Three years ago, August 3, 2016, Enbridge announced the cancellation of their first new pipeline proposal- the Sandpiper, as the company bowed to the legal and other push against their latest proposal.  That was one day after our Ride Against The Current of the Oil. Then Enbridge bought 28% of the Dakota Access Pipeline and financed what became a violent, repressive push by the oil industry against Water Protectors. We were there.  We rode our horses in prayer there as well. And we gave our blood and love for the land.

Then came Line 3. The route we rode on that pipeline has largely been changed, but the proposal remains the same- 915,000 barrels a day of tar sands oil., capacity. Today Line 3 carries 390,000 barrels a day of oil across the north land.  That’s oil that is for export, and adds about 220 million metric tons of carbon to the air annually.  In total, Enbridge is transporting the equivalent of two Exxon Valdez Tankers across our lake region.  We see Enbridge’s Line 3 as a crime against Mother Earth. 

This year my oldest grandchildren took to horse, joining their grandmother on ride which began at Big Bear Landing on Rice Lake, and ended on the banks of the Red Lake River, at St. Hilaire , Minnesota, where Enbridge’s present pipes cross these waters of my people. My oldest grandson, Giiwedin Buckanaga relayed with fast Dakota riders, and carried the staff honoring the water and the horses.  My second oldest grandson rode fearlessly with a cast on one leg to remind him of a tumble he took off roller blades.  My youngest son, Randall Braveheart  rode a horse with such speed, it looked as if they were flying.   This is the next generation.  I believe in them.

This ride was inspired by a dream, and the memorial rides of the Dakota 38 Plus 2 and the Big Foot Memorial Ride. The Dakota 38 ride commemorates the tragedy of the mass hanging of Dakota in Mankato (the largest mass hanging in US history). The Big Foot Ride traces the footsteps of Chief Big Foots band of Lakota from Standing Rock to the massacre at Wounded Knee, by the 7th Cavalry in l890. All of this took place in the depth of winter, brutal for our people.  In our prayer rides, we remember them and we are descended from those who survived.

This ride is about a tragedy which should not happen; the destruction of our Anishinaabe way of life by the Enbridge pipeline, a Canadian corporation. We ride for the water, our relatives and future generations. We ride as a prayer.

The Ride to Honor Water, a Ride of Water Protectors is always a mystery.    That’s to say, we never know who will come to us.   This year marked the first time that the horses came from our farm near Osage , Minnesota. And most of the riders came from the Red Lake and White Earth reservation- all youth. The riders were guided and mentored by Dakota riders from Sisseton, particularly Monga Eastman and Wyatt Grey.  That’s a landmark for us at Honor the Earth- we have begun to restore the Horse Nation and our covenant with these animals.  Our Anishinaabe are learning , and becoming horse people.

Red Lake youth led much of the ride, as this year, the Ride for the Water Protectors passed through the treaty territories of the White Earth and Red Lake Anishinaabe. Riders included Brenton and Ogema GoodRider, Migizi DeJarlais (Red Lake)Giiwedin Buckanaga, Aandegoons Neeland, Waasmoan Neeland, and Brooke, all from the White Earth reservation.  Two women came from the Northern Cheyenne and Ft. Belknap reservations in Montana, both of them facing the Keystone XL Pipeline, superfund sites left by big mining companies and an endless barrage of federal moves to gut any environmental, health , or visionary programs on those reservations.  Brandi King  is a Tribal Councilwoman from Ft. Belknap reservation, and returned to Montana as the dispute over the Keystone Pipeline, opposed by the Montana tribes grows. There, TC Energy  ( formerly TransCanada) and the Trump Administration seek to diminish water protections and disregard Tribal opposition for another Canadian pipeline company.  Consultation has been a very misused term for mega projects. Consultation, corporate style means they tell you what they want to do, and if you say No, they say, well, we told you.  Consultation, does not mean consent. It’s a lot like rape. If you tell a woman you are going to rape her (consultation), that does not mean consent. 

Horses Heal

This year, riders also spent an afternoon and early evening with the Red Lake Boys and Girls Club, delighting young and old alike, with horse rides, and listening and dancing to the music of the singers ad drum from Red Lake.  There were many smiles and many good ideas for new horse programs. Horses have healing powers, and our villages and people are in need of healing. And this year, our ride, more than ever had the most beautiful water songs and ceremonies, gratis of young Anishinaabe and Dakota singers.   

There’s a magic to riding horse. In a fast world of fossil fuels we speed at 60 miles an hour, and never see with wonder the small yellow butterflies , the bear cub, or the micro ecosystems of life.  This is a magical time which young people deserve, and many of the youth on this ride have seen friends die from suicide, witnessed a brutality of life , and the racism of the north country. These youth also heal on a horse, learning to trust the animal and their own bodies and spiritual connection to riding and the Horse Nation.

This year, we witnessed fall colors in brilliance,  and smiles from people relieved to see us. We also clearly felt the gratitude from landowners who lived in the fear of Enbridge. That’s to say, that this stretch of ride, from Rice Lake to the Red Lake River is full of pro line 3 signs, and pipe yards. It’s really baffling to me how a company can put in so many pipe yards, move so much into place for a pipeline which should never receive permits.  Landowners walked to find us, and thanked our youth for being courageous. 

“We are some of those who are afraid to say anything and risk the wrath of pipeline supporters”, one landowner told us.  Elsewhere, other landowners prepare to challenge Enbridge’s proposals to take their land for the pipeline, the White Earth Tribe issues a cease and desist order against Enbridge for attempting to circumvent tribal authority on the reservation, and the Bad River band sues Enbridge for pipe removal. 

There’s a clear intimidation strategy of the Enbridge company: they wish to make it seem like the pipe is inevitable, and they also wish to make it appear that this Canadian corporation has a right to public lands, and private lands, even prior to any permits.  Elsewhere, as in Montana  with the proposed Keystone KXL Route) the federal court judge found the pipe yards were illegal and would bias an Environmental Impact Statement Process. 

The Bus Gets Stuck

We have a big bus. That’s to say, that a kind donor, Andy Pector, donated a very nice bus to Honor the Earth. The bus displays a beautiful painting of a Water Protector, and the big bold words: Stop Line 3.   We love the bus. It’s a Beast. Traveling the pipeline route, we came across the sweet town of Oklee, Minnesota- about three hundred or so people in Red Lake County.  There, Enbridge’s pipes cross the Lost River, and our Riders stopped there to pray and sing to the river. We marveled at the full collection of pipes and Cathodic shield on display, and parked our bus.

Torrential rains soften the land, subsiding soils around the pipes, and perhaps the pull of the mysterious Cathodic shield (this is an electromagnetic charge intended to keep pipes from rusting and use more energy), sucked our bus in.  Torrential rains, more coming with climate change, have already exposed pipes elsewhere, particularly the Bad River Reservation, where that northern Wisconsin tribe has filed suit against Enbridge demanding removal of the pipe as a risk to that watershed.

The bus got stuck, which really wasn’t our intention.  We spent some good times visiting with the Red Lake County Sheriff, the fine people of Oklee, the master towing company from Thief River Falls (Falls Towing, in case you ever need one), and the bus moved on.    

The incident was resolved, likely having caused a few red flags in the Enbridge world, and certainly some big scowls by the local Enbridge representative. In the meantime, this hater’s group- Minnesotans for Line 3 is really demonizing us for this, and we just have to laugh. We really didn’t mean to get the bus stuck.  And, we plan to fix the small digs ourselves. Because we work to take care of our land and our water.

At the same time, what’s clear is that Enbridge is fear mongering, pressuring families to stand with them, and encouraging racism and anti-Indian sentiments in the north. My apologies, it was not our intent, and I thought it was worth more than a few ironic chuckles- everyone else thought so too.  My thought: be careful of pipelines, they are not structurally sound.

This years ride was more inspirational than ever, met with joy and gratitude, we remembered who we are as Water Protectors and as Indigenous people. We remember that 5% of the world’s population is protecting about 80% of the remaining biodiversity of this world. Those are Indigenous people.  We sing for the Water and pray with the Horse Nation. 

We become stronger spiritual people and more courageous people in these times, and we see a new generation coming. Those young people, like Greta Thunberg, Giiwedin Buckanaga, Migizi, Ogema and  the youth climate intervenors and so many more, inspire us all. We are Water Protectors, and we are grateful to ride and pray for our water.   

MIIGWECH FOR ALL OUR SUPPORTERS, MANY OF YOU DONATED TO MAKE THIS SPIRITUAL RIDE POSSIBLE, AND EVEN A HORSE TRAILER.

WE ARE GRATEFUL FOR YOU SUPPORT.

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