“Anishinaabek Camp - Shutdown Line 5” weathers vortex in fight against deteriorating Enbridge pipeline

Interview with Cody Bigjohn by Paul DeMain  - #1 of 5
 - Pellston, Michigan (NFIC) -

My name is Cody Bigjohn, Odawa/Ojibwe Ndow. I come from the land of the Crooked Tree. I am Odawa and Ojibwe. I grew up in Lansing, which is the state capital of Michigan. I’ve been up here in the northern part of Michigan for about 20 years, now. Outside of camp, I’m a graphic designer, screen printer. I have two children.

DeMain: What brought you to Line #5 Camp, or how did it get established?

Bigjohn: Well, the idea came in Standing Rock. We was out in Standing Rock in 2016. We was all part of Michigan Host Tent, which was basically a sub-camp within Standing Rock that housed and hosted people coming from Michigan. There was always food and a warm place to stay.

“When I got out there, there were quite a few people I knew from Michigan already there, even a couple of my brothers.

“Being out there, going through what we was going through, and being part of what we was a part of, we decided that after that was over, win or lose, that we was going to come back here, set up a camp, and try to bring the same fight to Line #5.

“To be honest, I didn’t even really know about Line #5 up until a few years ago. I was ignorant. After learning about it and understanding that it’s a pipeline that runs underneath the straights of Lake Michigan, and it was 10, 12 years old, past its lease date. It was only supposed to be 50 years, and it’s been 65 now, so it’s already older then it was suppose to be.

“After learning all that, it ignited a flame within me to do more to bring awareness to this pipeline that runs through the straights, because I’m sure there’s a lot of people like me who don’t even know that it exists.”

DeMain: How did that impact people asking questions about what might happen here?

Bigjohn: “Well, we actually had a couple people come from Kalamazoo. They came and visited us. One of the founders of this camp, he’s from Gun Lake. Their tribal land is from down that area. He was affected, he was impacted directly because of his fishing and his hunting that he was doing down there. Since the spill, all of that’s been affected. He’s a outdoorsman, so he does a lot of that. He hasn’t been able to do any of that near his home because of that. It’s been, I don’t know, like five, six years, and it’s still not cleaned up.

Enbridge Kalamazoo, Michigan Spill Site 2010

“To me, it just shows that how irresponsible they are, Enbridge, when it does come. When a disaster does come, they kind of sweep it under the rug. If it wasn’t for John

“Bolenbaugh, who went to the actual river, and like, what they (Enbridge) did was they covered the oil with a layer of dirt, and mud, and threw some grass on it, and pretended nothing happened. John actually went in there, went into the river and exposed them for that, you know? That was big, what he did.

“That, to me, was kind of what catapulted and helped a lot of people from Michigan go to Standing Rock was, hey, that’s in our backyard, you know? It’s not just over there. It’s not just their problem.”

Several members of Anishinaabek Camp - Shut Down Line 5 who are wintering the camp stand outside of one of several army tents that comprised the “Camp Michigan” subcamp at Standing Rock, North Dakota in 2016.  Photos by DKakkak

DeMain: Sometime this last summer, a boat dragged an anchor across it. What’s the worst case scenario of something happening here?

Bigjohn: “With Line #5. I think that that is it, is a rupture and their response, their response time is like hours, still. God forbid that it be wavy and icy, because then there’s nothing you really can do. I know shutting it off would be the best thing to do, but even then, sometimes they don’t shut it off right away. I don’t understand their process in an oil spill, but I know that shutting it off isn’t the first step, which is just dumb.

“Worst case scenario is that that oil spills, and they don’t shut it off in time, and it does leak for a day or two. If it’s any longer than that, the whole coastline of Michigan is going to be affected. All those rivers and lakes that feed off of the big lake will be affected.

“We’re only, probably about 15 miles in (from the lake). Everyone around here would be affected. I don’t know how long it would take for that to happen, but even if they do stop, turn it off, still, some got out. It’s going to damage some kind of wildlife, some form of Mother Earth.”

 

"The fact that they’re just raping Mother Earth for a profit, and they put that

profit over the people’s health..." Cody Bigjohn - Anishinaabek Camp

 

DeMain: What makes you mad enough to act, or to react, or to be involved in this?

Bigjohn: “The main thing is is that we have alternative sources of energy. Tesla, a hundred years ago, he proved that energy comes from the air, and we could harness it. We would no need for this so-called fossil fuels. The fact that they’re just raping Mother Earth for a profit, and they put that profit over the people’s health and ... man. To me, that just seems like they’re not even from here... It’s just, that they put their profit and their stakes, shareholders’ concerns over the concerns of the people.”

DeMain: Tell me more about this camp since it started?

Bigjohn: We’ve had a couple events where we’ve had lots of people, the most we had here, one weekend, was the Pipe Out Paddle last summer. We had over 60 people come to stay with us. Then, we’ve had another event where quite a few people stayed. We’ve had a couple hundred people come through here. They come visit, time to time. Most of the people that come, it’s not just the one-time thing. They usually end up coming back.

“It is hard being out here in the winter. Sometimes, it does seem like no one else cares? Then, we’ll get donations, or someone will come and drop off a generator, you know what I’m saying? It’s just little things like that that make me realize that people really do care. They’re doing what they can to help us out.

“Even though we’re not a frontline camp, what we’re doing here is still, I believe, is still important. We’re trying to bring awareness. We are bringing awareness to the situation. When anyone contributes, or comes by, or does anything for us, it’s just, to me, it just gives me more reason to do this. It inspires me and feeds my spirit.

“One thing I’ve been vocal about is the fact that this just isn’t my fight. Just because I’m from here, just because the pipeline goes by my house, or by my people’s territory, this is not just my fight. It’s not just my people’s fight. It’s not just a Native American issue, either. It’s bigger than that. It should be a concern for all humans, anyone who drinks water, breathes air, of how important it is that we protect Mother Earth.

“I think that’s just what I would like people to know, that you’re part of this, too. Even though you’ve got your 9:00 to 5:00, or your big car, big truck, and you really have no concerns, but you got to think about the future generation. Thinking about the seven generations ahead. Big fancy cars, and trucks, and all that stuff is not helping our future generation.

 

"It’s not just my people’s fight. It’s not just a Native American issue, either. It’s bigger than that. It should be a concern for all humans, anyone who drinks water, breathes air, of how important it is that we protect Mother Earth."  Cody Bigjohn - Anishinaabek Camp

“I know I went to Standing Rock to go visit, and then when I got home, I just didn’t feel right. Then, I went back out to Standing Rock, and I just felt complete again. I realized, my spirit never left Standing Rock. It was there the whole time, waiting for me to come back. That’s kind of how I feel like this, here, is my spirit’s here. It’s cold, I’d rather be somewhere else warm, but it’s not about what I want.

“If we could change 10 people’s minds, and those people can change 10 people’s minds, it’s this snowball effect, just to show these people how important it is to protect the water, and the earth, and the air.

“I just would like people to know that we’re here for them. None of us here have any ... None of us are gaining anything by being here, you know? We’re making sacrifices. We’ve given up jobs. We left our homes. We left our families to be here. It’s because we feel it’s important. I would like people to take this as serious as we are.

DeMain: How do we get ahold of you? 

Bigjohn: “We do have a page on the Facebook [and a Paypal]. It’s Anishnaabek Camp, all one word [at paypal].

“We do have a website in the works. One of our supporters downstate, the lady who donated these wonderful double-barrel wood stoves, she does website creation design. I do believe that’s going to be Anishnaabekcamp.com. But that’s in the works.

“We definitely could always use some firewood. I think that’s it. More than stuff is time, time and energy. If people would just come for a day or two, kick it, hang out, see what we’re doing, here, maybe pitch in a little bit. Just so much to do around here, and we’re just overwhelmed.

“Right now, we’re just bunkered down in survival mode, just trying to stay warm. There’s still a lot that needs to be done. I still feel like the people are going to come. Just trying to get ready for them.

“We’d like to see the governor follow through with what she promised, which was to shut down the pipeline. Part of the reason why she got put in there is because a lot of people in Michigan realize the importance (of shutting it down). It’d be nice to see her really try, not just say it.

“I understand, her arms would be tied with the  way the political system works. She might not even really have any power. As long as she makes a effort, it’ll help us. It’ll motivate us? It’d be like giving us the okay. If she says okay, then we’re going to do what we need to do.

“That’s the whole part of us being here throughout the winter was to prepare for the people to come into the spring. Everyone’s promising to come in the spring. It’s just like, “All right, man. We’ll be here.” That’s really what we’re waiting for, is as soon as it gets warm ...

“The goal is to get this camp big enough to where we have to move closer to the bridge, we have to move somewhere else. We do have property available, and things are ready. It’s just, we just need people. We’re just doing what we can.”

Cody Bigjohn

DeMain: Do you guys laugh out here once in a while?

Bigjohn: “We’re in good spirits. We’re staying warm. We’re thankful for the people, the supporters. We got food. Yeah, we’re doing all right. Everyone’s always calling us crazy or whatever for being out here. It’s not really that bad, you know? We kind of just play along, “Yeah, oh my god, it’s terrible out there. It’s so cold,” but really, it’s not really that cold. As long as we got the firewood, and we’ll have firewood as long as we have supporters, you know what I’m saying? I just feel like as long as we keep doing what we’re here to do, things will happen the way they’re supposed to.”


 

“You’re looking at something that goes right over their creation story”

Interview of Nancy Gallardo by Paul DeMain  -  #2 of 5
Pellston, Michigan (NFIC)

My name is Nancy Gallardo. I’m from Grand Rapids, Michigan. My background is basically in theater prop design. I also teach theater classes. Before coming here, I was a receptionist at the Grand Rapids Community Media Center and also WYC radio programmer for 20 years.

DeMain: Tell us what brought you here to the Line #5 Camp?

Gallardo: “Line #5 Camp is something that was born in Standing Rock several years ago by the owners of this property. We talked about developing a camp once we came back to Michigan and that opportunity came a couple years ago when they opened up their camp to the paddle out folks who were doing the protest on the Mackinac straits, protesting the pipeline five.

“This is my second year here. I came back. I took a leave of absence back in July and went to Cross Village, first and started a small camp up there and then from there, transitioned back into there late July to get ready and prepare for the paddle out, here with a number of other people that were at Sandy Rock and Line #3 and various other pipelines, so people from New Orleans came up here fighting the pipeline down there as well.”

DeMain: Tell us about some of the actions you’ve seen that have occurred in the area and what are the concerns about line five?

Gallardo: “We’ve done a number of different actions. They can be very subtle actions as to passing ... When we first came, it was just passing out information about how long the pipeline has been there, what studies have been done or lack of studies that have been done to the repairs of the pipeline. We were able to take advantage of the fact that we went to Bliss Fest and the number of tourists that come up here during that time who enjoy the great lakes and it was very important that we let them know, by the way, there’s a pipeline here and this could disrupt a number of ecosystems as well as the fishing rights. It’s just a number of catastrophic things that could occur, should that pipe leak.

“As individuals here at the camp, we  just made our presence known. I think that was enough for Enbridge, just like, “What? This little camp? This little tiny, humble camp?” They know. They’re aware that we’re here. We made sure we went to a number of meetings. We went to the bridge authority meetings. Anything and everything we could possibly do to make our presence known, to make people aware of what Enbridge has done in the past and to let them know that we are keeping an eye on them and we will continue to press for information and accountability from Enbridge.”

Enbridge Line #5, the TransCanada natural gas line and several other pipes and cables run across the Mackinac Straits to the west of the bridge on the Lake Michigan side, while Lake Huron lies to the right.

 

DeMain: There’s people that know Line #5 cruises through the UP and then goes down to mainland Michigan, but the main concern is the straits. Tell us what that looks like.

Gallardo: “Well, you see the Mackinac Bridge. It (Line #5) runs parallel to the Mackinac bridge from one point to another and you can see those points. What that looks like is you’re looking at history, depending on whose point of view you’re looking at, if you’re a Native American here, you’re looking at the creation story. You’re looking at something that goes right over their creation story and everything that’s sacred to them. If you’re looking through Enbridge’s eyes, we’re looking for a quick buck to fast pace a pipeline for another 99 years. Those are the different points of view. We’re looking at something sustainable, something that we can say, “Hey, the water is sacred. We need to get this out of here.

“Again, different perspectives and points of view and knowing that we’re trying to do for the future, is protect these great lakes. We know that in 99 years, are you for real in wanting to have fossil fuel still being used after 99 years? You still envision crude oil coming through here? You still envision yourself using propane up in the UP? What are the number of people up in the UP that demand this kind of tunnel? Is it the population? I think when people moved to the UP, they knew what they were in for. It wasn’t a surprise. Now, suddenly we need all this and that. It seems ridiculous that Enbridge would use that excuse. “Oh, this is for the people.” We know that it’s the greed coming through Canada. The oil coming through there. [Line #5 ends in Sarnia, Ontario, Canada)  It’s about money. It’s not about anything, but that.”

DeMain: Part of the problem is the pipeline, out of site, out of mind?

Gallardo: “Exactly. I think a number of is, even when we went to Standing Rock, the very fact that we were told, “Go back to your communities. Go back and learn.” I think that’s where a number of us learned, “Holy crap. Enbridge is right in our backyard and we didn’t know it.” I’ll be 63 next month. I was shocked to learn that this was in existence, especially after the spillage in Kalamazoo, why didn’t we know more? Why didn’t we know more of its history? Why wasn’t it explained more to us exactly where the pipelines were running? It was a shock to me knowing that there was a pipeline actually running through here ... Four years ago, I maybe heard something, but it didn’t relate. I think for a number of people, too when we make that connection that something like this is in our own backyard and how catastrophic it could be, that’s when a lot of people are taking notice, now and have awakened to that information.”

DeMain:    What’s inspiring about Line #5 Camp? What’s happened here?  

Gallardo: Tenacity. It’s the tenacity and the fact that it is all of us are realizing it’s bigger than all of us. We are such a small part of what is happening here and we can only become stronger by more people becoming more aware. What’s inspiring is that the number of young folks who will take up the torch and make sure that their children and their children’s children will have some sort of stability as far as environment or have something to pass on in the future. That’s inspiring and it was my parent’s generation who probably when the technology to build this bridge and all that came, that was historic and it was a big, huge thing that brought Michigan to the map, that we could actually do something like this, but at the same time, no one had the knowledge of what the damage of these things could do to us. Now, that we do know the amount of damage that could happen, we are the stewards. We owe it. We owe it.”

Signs through-out the Upper Peninsula region support the removal of Line #5 from the Mackinac Straits.

DeMain: I don’t know if people can imagine what would happen if there was an oil leak, now. Middle of the winter, what would happen?

Gallardo: “There’s no way. The way the shoreline and the way the currents run underneath there. It would be very tough. The coast guard has already said that they’re ill-equipped. I think they’re almost being sued because of their inadequacy to be able to respond quickly to it. Enbridge really doesn’t have a plan for clean up because nothing like this has ever occurred before. We have oil spills in the gulf; things where we could get to it quickly or we could try get to something quickly. If Enbridge can’t clean up a river in Kalamazoo and has to hide the fact that it has covered over its damage, it’s not gonna be able to cover over the spill.

“It’s gonna be very evident to everybody along the shoreline when we see the dead fish start floating around onto our shores, it’s gonna be very evident that they have lied to us, continued to lie to us, have no plan for recovery, no viable plan for recovery. No one really does. That is something someone should be very, very afraid of.”

DeMain:    Are you getting some tribal government support from the region in some ways? How would you describe that relationship?

Gallardo: “I think the relationship is one of caution because they’re very much embedded into this area, too. The second, third generation, probably include some folks working for Enbridge or being around Enbridge. Enbridge has deep roots here and I think the tribe is watching us to see how we react to different things. Again, politics play very much a part of any tribe or any ... Either it’s state politics or tribal politics. We’ve been very encouraged by the folks, here locally. They’ve come to our camp. They’ve given what they could. They’ve encouraged us. I think that many folks who couldn’t be at Standing Rock or Line #5 events, we’ve become extended family to a lot of our folks. This camp is part of the people’s trust. Everything you see, here was through donations, so we hold that in the people’s trust. Anything that we do, anything that we say, we try to keep in mind that many hardworking people that can’t be here, we’re representing them and that’s why we have to be mindful, not only of this property, but everything that we receive.”

DeMain: If you had a message to the world from Line #5 Camp and the issue of pipelines or fossil fuels, what would it be?

Gallardo: “Keep moving forward. We know that fossil fuels will deplete one day. We know that fossil fuels are ruining our environment. We know we have the capability of doing so much more with solar and with wind power and a number of other ways and means to extract energy. Be mindful of that everyday. Know that you, as an individual, have that power to make that difference and each little thing that you do everyday; flicking off the lights, turning off that water, throwing that piece of paper out or that can away, all that makes a difference.

“Water is life. Never forget that. Protect the sacred. It is extremely important. Our environment is one gift that we can give to the future generation. We can share that beautiful blue sky, that clean, crisp clear air, the ground that we walk on. You walk outside, today, you walk around it doesn’t take much to have that natural beauty just hit you in the face and to be grateful every morning. I feel blessed that we can wake up to a beautiful country, what we have left and we want to keep it and preserve it.”

Nancy Gallardo

 

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