Protecting the Water, Protecting the Land

This spring, a marketing firm hired by WEC Energy Group stopped by our farm a number of times. They wanted us to sign an agreement allowing an Environmental Impact Statement to be done so that a natural gas pipeline could be laid through our front field. We worried that all the work that we had done improving that field would be for naught if it were disturbed for the project. We also feared that the pipe could compromise the integrity of our operation and water well if it were to fail.

Despite the firm’s persistence, we both refused to sign any documentation and WEC chose to not run the pipeline through our field. Rather, they began moving forward with two other proposed routes. This situation really scared us. Were we going to have to hire a lawyer? Was this going to happen whether or not we consented? We are young farmers and relatively new to the land that we steward, but, having worked so closely with it, still have very deep ties to these acres. If the project had continued, we would have been devastated.

Throughout the summer and fall, we've been watching the community come together to support the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in their resistance to an Energy Transfer Partners project called the Dakota Access Pipeline. We feel solidarity with their cause. It's hard to ignore people proclaiming "Water is Life" and asking for assistance. We followed friends' social media posts, the Bismarck newspaper, and alternative media coverage of this struggle. We've learned that indigenous communities across North America suffer from high levels of poverty and suicide rates and that access to economic opportunities and fresh food is often limited.

Last week, we were lucky enough to leave the farm with a sitter for a few days. We used that time to deliver the two tons of produce donated from the family farms in our area to the camps at Standing Rock. We are proud of our local community for stepping up to nourish folks working to protect the water. Many of the farmers mentioned that they wished they could do more, but as the truck was unloaded, we witnessed a deep appreciation of what had been given.

It's hard to explain in its entirety what it is like at Standing Rock. We found a peaceful and prayerful community that was respectful, humble, educating and generous. We met folks from every corner of the country that came to stand in solidarity and pray. There were local government proclamations of support from Colorado to New York during our visit. While there, we participated in nonviolent direct action training from organizers involved in indigenous and Chicano issues and the Black Lives Matter movement. We all understood that access to clean water is a basic right we all share in common. The trainers and leadership repeatedly reminded everyone that we are strongest when we stand and act together with good intentions.

At Standing Rock, we see a struggle in which a corporation is putting profits above the interests of people who have inhabited that land for many generations. Rural communities on the Bakken Formation struggle to thrive through the volatility of petroleum markets. We see common cause with the work that the Land Stewardship Project engages in. Farmers work hard to steward and protect the land they live so closely with, and LSP’s membership understands the destructive nature of extreme energy extraction, and the connection between the frac sand mined from the Driftless Region of Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa, and the barrels of oil flowing from the fracked Bakken Shale.

The Land Stewardship Project has also committed itself to racial justice. Our farm lies on ground that was once inhabited by the Santee Dakota and later the Ojibwe people. Our immigrant forebears benefited by extracting resources from this land and we are still benefiting from it today. The crisis at Standing Rock arose when the pipeline project was rerouted from Bismarck suburbs where residents had expressed concerns for their environmental welfare, to the sacred lands adjoining the Standing Rock Reservation. We believe that indigenous rights are once again being abused by our government and that the structural racism involved in the Standing Rock crisis needs to be acknowledged and examined.

The Standing Rock Sioux are calling out for allies to lend support to their cause and goal: to deny Energy Transfer Partners an easement to drill underneath the Missouri River. They have asked that folks lend support through their physical presence, donations and by calling on representatives in the government to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline project. Now that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the governor of North Dakota are calling for a closure of the encampment by Dec. 5, the need for our action has become even more urgent.

Each of us needs to think of the best ways to leverage our skills, time, abilities and resources to stand up for the world we plan to live in. Together, we can move forward into a future that is just and equitable. Together, we can work together to protect our water and our land so that these critical resources may support the coming generations. It’s hard to ignore the chants of “Water is Life.” Let’s all take a moment to listen, and to respond.

Land Stewardship Project members and Farm Beginnings graduates Caleb and Lauren Langworthy farm near Wheeler, Wis. Lauren also serves on LSP’s Federal Farm Policy Committee. For more information on how to best support the people standing up to the Dakota Access Pipeline project, see the Oceti Sakowin Camp website.