Writer Louise Erdrich in a New York Times article this week spoke about "the young Mississippi River."
She talked of visiting the sacred place where the river begins "in a stream of pure darkness" two hours north of Minneapolis, where indigenous people are protesting the imminent expansion of the Enbridge Line 3 oil sands pipeline.
Having grown up mesmerized by the "old Mississippi," near the river's end, I felt a kinship with Erdich's report.
By the time the river flows through my hometown of Baton Rouge and New Orleans headed to the Gulf of Mexico, it carries the nation's pollutants. A pipeline accident far upriver in Minnesota would also devastate communities downstream.
The Canadian energy company Enbridge's plan to expand the pipeline through Minnesota will pump oil sands and other forms of crude oil from Hardisty, Alberta to Superior, Wisc., crossing indigenous treaty lands, Erdrich said.
Distressingly, Tim Walz, the liberal Democratic governor of Minnesota, has approved final water permits for the expansion. Erdrich calls this a betrayal after indigenous tribes supported Joe Biden's election. The native people have also suffered disproportionately from Covid.
Although lawsuits have been filed by the White Earth, Red Lake and Mille Lacs nations and several environmental organizations, construction has begun. The indigenous tribes are mobilizing protests, chaining themselves to equipment and undergoing arrests.
The Canadian tar sands "are among the most carbon-intensive fuels on the planet," Erdrich said. The pipeline's carbon output could reach 193 million tons a year, she reports, citing Jim Doyle, a physicist at Macalester College who analyzed the pipleline's impact.
That much carbon would eventually be released into the atmosphere, exacerbating climate change, already bringing suffering to "the land of 10,000 lakes," she says.
Pure at its origins, the Mississippi is sadly ravaged by the time it reaches Louisiana. Agricultural chcmical runoff and industrial pollution lead to oxygen deterioration in the gulf, and loss of sealife. The pipeline's oil sands threaten the entire river.