Protecting Our Water

Water is Life Festival in Mackinaw City Showcases the Need to Act Now

by Steve Pelto, September 8, 2021

As I passed the halfway point of the five-mile long Mackinac Bridge, my eyes scanned the water, looking for protesters.  I was here to witness the Line 5 protest and experience the Water is Life Festival.  As I came to the end of the bridge, I could canoes and kayaks pulled up on the narrow beach and crowd gathered around a speaker in the adjacent park. 

It was Saturday, September 4, and
members of several indigenous tribes and their allies had gathered in Mackinaw City, Michigan in a continuing effort to secure clean water for future generations.  They were there for the Festival and to protest the Enbridge Line 5 oil pipeline that runs underneath the Straits of Mackinac. 

I was part of a small group from the Episcopal Diocese of Northern Michigan who made the trip to support the Indigenous peoples and to help protect our water.  Bishop Rayford Ray explained our role, “We are here to support and help the Indigenous water protectors.” Bishop Ray went on to say that the festival is a good place to form new connections and deepen old relationships within the community that has formed around the protection of water.

The day began near the south end of the Mackinac Bridge with an event called the Pipe Out Paddle Up Flotilla.  Members of local tribes and allies from the clean water movement gathered along the lakeshore.  Several dozens of them paddled out into the Straits in a variety of traditional boats, canoes, and kayaks. Once they reached a position over Line 5, they unveiled a Water is Life banner.  Their hope is that by doing so, they can educate members of the public to the dangers posed to our water supply by the Enbridge Line 5.  I spoke with Sean
McBrearty of Lansing-based Clean Water Action and the group Oil and Water Don’t
Mix outlined the threat, “There is no other pipeline that runs through 20% of the world’s freshwater and presents such a giant risk as Line 5.” 

Back on shore, a large group of
supporters gathered in a circle to listen to traditional music, watch jingle dancers, and listen to leaders speak.  The air smelled of smoked stage as an indigenous man purified the air with a smudge stick.  The constant beating of the drums made my heart race.  The crowd was energetic and excited.  The tone was positive and forward-thinking. There were multiple speakers, including McBrearty and Brandy Lee of Indian River, one of the event coordinators, who spoke about the importance of water and the progress that has been made in protecting it in the State of Michigan. 

In the afternoon, I moved over to
the Conkling Heritage Park for the Water is Life festival which had live music, informative panels, art workshops, information booths, and merchants, all of
whom were there to celebrate and protect our fresh water.  Some of the vendors provided a magical artistic experience for children of all ages.  Others, such as Peggy Case and Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation were there to spread a cautionary tale.  Their booth had some startling information and photographs showcasing the drying up of rivers in Lower Michigan due to uncontrolled water extraction and the need for citizens to take action to stop it. 

Bishop Ray echoed this sentiment.  He said, “In Genesis, after God created the world, he said, ‘It is good.’  It is our duty as humans to protect this good Earth, both for ourselves and for all living things.” 

When people needed to sit down and relax, there was live music, including Seth Bernard, a Michigan-based musician and activist.   His music was catchy and melodic, but also made you think.  He has something important to say about the world we live in, exploring issues of social and environmental justice, and calling people to action now.  In one , “All This Time,” he encourages the listener to act in order to make change, “…what you gave means more than what you got… you can’t save your best shot.”

            Bernard was joined onstage for “All This Time” by Michigan poet and MC Amber Hasan.  In a rap that finished the song, she encouraged the audience to act, “…make these moments meaningful, be a healer, a builder… a doer … not just a high talker.”

This message was echoed by many of those gathered in Mackinaw City.  We must act, and we must act now.  We know what needs be done.  It is time to do it, because water is life.