Connecting with Water Protectors Everywhere

August 25, 2018

By Anna Maria Caldara, August 2018, for Loretto Earth Network

“Kwel’ Hoy! Kwel’ Hoy!” rebounded through a forest clearing in Mahwah, New Jersey on April 21st. We had gathered at the Ramapough Lenape Nation Community Center in resistance to the Pilgrim Pipeline.

Lummi Indian Nation Representative Fredrick Lane translated the chant he led as, simply, “We draw the line.” The Lummi are among the indigenous in the Pacific Northwest leading the
opposition to a glut of fossil fuel proposals. In the last six years, their ancestral homeland has been targeted for seven new coal terminals and the expansion of three others, two oil pipelines, eleven oil-by-rail terminals, and six natural gas pipelines!

Recognizing the same despoiling of Mother Earth in Mahwah as in Washington State, the Lummi transported a 16’ totem pole in solidarity. Ramapough Lenape Chief Dwaine Perry informed us
that the Pilgrim Pipeline would destroy an aquifer and a watershed…”an ecosystem and our children’s future.”

We were each given tobacco to tuck within cavities on the totem pole, with a prayer for guidance and strength. “It takes unity to save the earth,” declared Mr. Perry. “The four human figures on
the pole show the four colors of our skins. We must stand together, one and all, as water keepers.”

The Lummi have just succeeded in blocking the largest coal port ever conceived in North America, at Cherry Point, Washington. This landmark win underscores their message spoken in New Jersey: “We are protectors, not protestors. We are not here to fight, but to protect the elements of Life—clean air, clean water, clean earth, the sacred fire. We must be the voice for the fish, the four-leggeds, the insects. We are the first generation to recognize global climate change, and the last generation that can do something about it!”

On April 24th. the totem pole was delivered to The Watershed Institute in Pennington, New Jersey. It was set upright, but draped in a voluminous red cloth. As daylight weakened, we watched a Lummi man, Mr. Carver, assemble a semi-circle of rocks before it. He explained that this was an altar. Later we were invited to each select a small stone to place atop the row, with a wish.

The children present were asked to assist with the unveiling of the totem. As the last fold of cloth was freed, the carving’s rich colors and bold visages glowed in the dusk. Mr. Carver described the white disk at the top as a symbol of the moon. The shadows visible upon its surface are shaped like a Native person with head bowed, “praying to Creator to please save Mother Earth for the children.”

The bear and the salmon are part of Pacific Northwest folklore. The raven is a reminder that he found food for the people when they were starving. The people, with skin colors of red, brown, yellow and white, are united by their humanity, on the planet that they share.

The totem pole will stand resolutely at the Institute for four months. The Ramapough and Lummi feel that it is appropriately situated, because the facility is dedicated to “protecting
and restoring our water and natural environment in central New Jersey…”

And because the PennEast Pipeline will tear through the area as it winds from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania to nearby Trenton, impacting 700 waterways.

Nothing is more precious than water, necessary for all species to thrive, and indeed, survive. At this crucial moment in history, the greed and exploitation of the fossil fuel industry is rapidly diminishing our potable supplies. When it is our turn to safeguard our communities, what will we say?

Kwel’ Hoy!