Tuesday morning, the air was clean and the ground was moist. I had a vague recollection of hearing rain pounding on the roof in the night. Mary told me the wind had howled and there had been crashing thunder. We packed up our cabin and prepared to head out to retrieve Lindi.
Reports of arrests at the other action site were beginning to trickle in. I had been added to the jail support text thread, and it was clear they still needed drivers. So many people had been arrested! We had overwhelmed the small rural police force of Hubbard County, so the water protectors had been sent to jails in several different neighboring counties, many of them hours away. We got several of the local folks connected to help join jail support — and then headed out to find Lindi, hoping she had managed ok in the storm.
I should mention here that Lindi is an inveterate camper: prepared, experienced, and pretty much unflappable. So we weren’t too surprised to find her at the roadside when we arrived, tired but all packed up and ready to go. She reported that the downpour and gale-force winds had kept her awake, and collapsed a neighboring tent with another UU minister from New Hampshire it— whom Lindi generously welcomed into her own sturdy tent for the rest of the night.
Lindi told us that the Anishinaabe elders had performed a water ceremony, “to last for four days ” — which she interpreted to mean that it was enough to keep the encampment there until Friday.
Mary and I took a walk out along the boardwalk, which had been named Firelight Camp. A press conference was going on out at the end of the boardwalk, with reporters from the BBC, PBS, Associated Press and other national and international outlets, interviewing the Anishinaabe leaders. New folks were arriving, putting up tents and delivering supplies. The occupation had begun.
It was a calm and relaxing place to be. Folks sat around, chatting quietly — some young, some old. A small group of children played with My Little Pony dolls. A young woman came through offering snacks; a young man came through offering slices of watermelon. A young indigenous man sat facing the river playing pan pipes. It was really peaceful.
Lindi said she felt honored to have been a part of it. “We are building relationships that knit the fabric of resistance,” she said. “How incredible to be able to camp at the headwaters of the Mississippi, by invitation. Although it was a little hard to figure out where to go to the bathroom!”
We finally said our goodbyes, and got back in Lindi’s trusty Subaru. On our way out we decided to visit nearby Lake Itasca, the official beginning of the Mississippi.
Interestingly, the park is named after a park manager, Mary Gibbs — the first female state park manager in the US — who stood up to armed loggers to protect the trees of Lake Itasca. Resistance goes way back here in northern Minnesota.
We hiked in a short way to find the headwaters at the lake. There were several families there — all white, and one Amish.
As I sat on a rock with my feet in the cool shallow water, listening to the chatter around me — the odd German of the Amish, the American English of the others — I was suddenly struck by how ephemeral our time here is, how brief and precious and fleeting we each are, and how the landscape is so much older, and so much wiser. The Indigenous folks of the White Earth nation understand this, I believe.
Eventually we dried off our feet, walked back to the car, and said goodbye to the Missippi headwaters. We drove west toward Bismarck, ND, listening to the amazing coverage from Unicorn Riot of the action still going on at the pump station station, where the police were sawing off lockboxes to remove water protectors from the site. The bravery and commmitment of these folks is truly remarkable — and so welcome at a time when what we do is so critically important to protecting everything we hold sacred.
More people are still needed at the Firelight Camp. Click here to learn more.