Native View: With rivers drying up, remember: water is life

From the column: "Oil and water do not mix. And, it turns out, we are wasting almost as much water as we use."

Jeff Koterba / Cagle Cartoons
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The Loire River is the longest river in France. This year, the riverbed is largely dry for the first time in the history of people who write.

That’s not the only river running dry. The Colorado, Yangtze, Danube, Po, and Rhine are all also severely depleted. That means farms have no water, hydroelectric dams have no water, and ultimately life is without water. That’s a result of human-induced climate change; it’s not bad luck.

Droughts — like Minnesota’s last year, the worst in the past century — are more common, and fossil fuels are at the center of it.

We live next to Lake Superior and the Great Lakes, which hold a fifth of the world’s freshwater. It’s time to be a Water Protector, not hate on us. This year’s Water is Life Concert is about to happen at Bayfront Festival Park on Sunday. We will miss Renee Van Nett, the former Duluth City Council president who last year welcomed us to Duluth. Van Nett sent a message to work together. We live on the same land and drink the same water. Her passing was a great loss to all of us.

This year’s concert brings together multiple genres, from legendary rocker Ani DiFranco and the Indigo Girls to the up-and-coming legends of Corey Medina, Low, Dessa, Allison Russell, and more. They are joined by local luminaries like Annie Humphrey, Lyz Jakkola, and Keith Secola; all are coming to sing for the water.


Last year’s concert was at the height of Enbridge’s full-court press in the north country, and by fall Enbridge prevailed in a seven-year controversy and battle over Line 3, pitting Native people and Water Protectors against laborers and industry, brothers against sisters, and police against civilians.

Last year, the mayors of 11 Enbridge-friendly towns called on the Duluth City Council to close down the Water is Life Concert. Van Nett and the City Council stood with the Constitution, as well as the permits for the event. In turn, 5,000 people came to Bayfront to rock for the water. Bon Iver closed the show with Bob Dylan’s “With God on Our Side.”

I am hoping she still is.

It’s a year later, and 800 Water Protectors were arrested, 5 billion gallons of water were squandered for Enbridge’s drills, rivers have been contaminated with drilling fluids, and aquifers continue to pour out water in a water-parched world. Enbridge, having succeeded in Minnesota, is now fully engaged in work to reroute and lay pipe bringing more oil to Canada through Line 5.

Oil and water do not mix. And, it turns out, we are wasting almost as much water as we use. Consider that the average American household wastes 180 gallons per week, or 9,400 gallons of water annually, just by letting water run.

But it’s not just you and me. It’s about the pipes we really need: water pipes. Some 50% of the water in the U.S. leaks out of old pipes.

“People talk about reducing the time you take showers, but if you think about 50% of water flowing through the system being lost, it’s another magnitude,” Stanford professor Daniel Tartakovsky has explained. Those are some pipes we need.

No matter to which political party, water is always going to be life. This Sunday, Honor the Earth is offering free admission to the concert to anyone charged in the Line 3 cases. We promise to bring prayers, stars, music, civil rights, treaty rights, and enjoyment back to the lake. And we will celebrate that water is life.


Winona LaDuke lives on the White Earth Reservation in northern Minnesota. She has written six books on environmental and Native American issues and is executive director of Honor the Earth (, a national Native environmental foundation.

Winona LaDuke.jpg
Winona LaDuke

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