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Saturday, March 16, 2024


Beautiful Great Lakes water

‘Resilience’ is a word we have heard perhaps much too often since the year 2020, and its omnipresence may have begun four years earlier. Who knows? As a widow, I have had personal encounters with the word and the idea, as well as meeting with it in casual news and important news stories day after day, and sometimes I get tired of the word. But then I think, what other word could possibly take its place? 


The movie “Bad River” that premiered in various U.S. cities on March 15 (mostly cities much larger than Traverse City, so we were particularly fortunate to have it there) is set in a small place beset with large issues that are pertinent to everyone on earth. The federally recognized Ojibwe tribe at Bad River, Wisconsin, numbered 6,945 members in 2010. In 2020, 1,545 members lived on the 193.11 square mile reservation, most of it managed as “undeveloped” forest and wetland. In this tribe’s culture, wild rice is as elemental as land and water, but all are threatened by a Canadian-owned oil pipeline over 70 years old and in imminent danger of failure at key points, as the film makes clear. 


Challenge and threat are nothing new to the people of Bad River. Removal of their children to boarding schools (where their language was prohibited, physical and mental abuse rampant, and where many children died), removal and relocation of whole families to cities far from their homes, broken treaties, pressures from the dominant culture that shrunk the tribe’s lands time after time, an allotment plan that divided the land (all the better for lumber companies to buy their land and gain control), along with all the ills that follow poverty and disculturation. 


“Bad River” the film is a story about much more than the dangers of an oil pipeline that could spill into Lake Superior and from there contaminate the Great Lakes, because the Bad River people have been fighting to maintain their land and way of life and identity for much longer than the pipeline has been in place, but in a 1980s court case the judge ruled in favor of the tribe, saying that the Treaty of 1854 does indeed guarantee their rights to hunt and fish and gather food. Sport fishermen were incensed, but the fact is that the tribe manages its own fisheries, more than replacing the fish they take each year. See details of that history here. 


Now the tribe comprising roughly 7,000 Native Americans has been defending, at their own expense, not only their own lands and waters and resources, but the entire Great Lakes system, freshwater on which the entire world depends. The Canadian corporation, Enbridgehas been ruled a trespasser on tribal land since the tribe chose not to renew the corporation’s lease, which expired in 2013 – and yet a judge ruled that the trespass could continue until 2026 -- and the corporation has no intention of shutting down the pipeline and removing it then. 


Line 5 originates in Canada, passes through Wisconsin, Michigan, tribal lands, and the Great Lakes, only to end back in Canada. Apparently it was easier and cheaper for the foreign company to build the line below their national border. What would the energy cost be without Line 5? The company’s own experts estimate that gas prices might increase by half a cent per gallon


As is much too often the case with cost/benefit analyses, profits do not go to populations bearing the risks. Almost always, the few and the poorer bear the risks in order that the already wealthy can become wealthier. In this particular case, however, the risks are born by all Americans and Canadians within the Great Lakes system, now and into the future. “We’re not there yet,” said someone in the trial that found the corporation guilty of trespass. I.e., we have not yet had a disastrous break in the line. That, of course, is just the point: to prevent a disaster that could not possibly be contained.


The Bad River people have had to be resilient for generations in order to survive. Nature, we often note, is also resilient. The span of time needed for nature’s resilience, however, is not always limited to the span of a human life. What do we want to bequeath to our children and grandchildren, let alone to the seventh generation in the future?





Anonymous said...


Mr G said...

Thanks for the heads up. I watched a trailer and will try to see the full movie.