Environmental Sustainability Student Blogger Study USA

Fall Gathering in Akiing, “The Land To Which The People Belong”

Photo of Fall 2021 Environmental Justice cohort in front of Welcome Water Protectors sign

Dori McMurphy is HECUA’s Student Advisor and is participating in the Environmental Justice program. Dori is a student at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, majoring in Environmental Science, Policy, and Management through the People, Policy, Law, and Society Track as well as minoring in Social Justice. Read on to learn about Dori’s experiences from a recent site visit to Akiing.

Hi everyone! My name is Dori (they/them), I wanted to share some highlights from one of the Environmental Justice program’s most recent site visits. We went to Akiing, near Palisade, Minnesota, for the Fall Gathering to welcome all the people, commonly referred to as Water Protectors, resisting the deadly pipeline, Line 3. This was one of my favorite site visits as we met so many wonderful people, including film students from Macalester College, community organizers from the Twin Cities, and Indigenous matriarchs including Winona LaDuke, an Anishinabe women and founder of Honor The Earth, who is a very powerful leader!

Students walking through garden at the Hunt Utilities Group
Students touring the Hug Utilities Group property. Photo credit: Michelle Garvey

We first stopped in Cass County to tour the Hunt Utilities Group (HUG). HUG is a research foundation focused on building green infrastructure and educating others about accessibility and ways to participate in resilience living. Some of the amazing projects we saw included their cots, green roof designs, compostable toilets, and abundant greenhouses their community uses to make meals together. Industrial farmers previously owned the land. During that time, they stripped the soil of most nutrients through a lack of biodiversity and use of toxic fertilizers and pesticides. The current owners remediated the soil through regenerative practices like composting, planting native species, and using nontoxic pesticides. This was a wonderful experience to start off our trip, and it gave me hope for the future of farming.

We were initially going to camp in Palisade at the Water Protectors Center;  however, due to weather and time constraints, Michelle, our EJ program director, booked us lodging at the Sandy Lodge. There, we had a blast bonding as a cohort while taking advantage of the pool, hot tub, and game room. During our breakfast together, we read the book, We Are Water Protectors, written by Carole Lindstrom. It was a great story to read before we made our way to the Water Protectors Center for the Fall Gathering.

Photo of Fall 2021 Environmental Justice cohort in front of Welcome Water Protectors sign
Fall 2021 Environmental Justice cohort at Akiing. Photo credit: Michelle Garvey

When we got to the Water Protectors Center, we toured the area and were warmly welcomed by the Water Protectors staying there. The Macalester College students joined us by a bonfire to discuss tactics for social change. We had an incredible time learning with one another about different social justice movements and their effectiveness. 

Afterwards, we walked around the forest to listen to the sound garden constructed by artists. The speakers playing peaceful music were made of felt and shaped into mushrooms and birdhouses, which blended nicely with the natural surroundings. Signs posted in the forest encouraged listeners to close their eyes and absorb the sounds around them. It was an extremely powerful experience that made me process a lot of emotions I was trying to avoid. The juxtaposition between the beautiful Mississippi River scenery and the deadly pipeline just around the corner amplified so many defeated emotions. After conversing with inspiring Water Protectors, my hope is slowly being restored, especially knowing there are so many amazing people resisting. The fight against Line 3 is not over.

Photo of students painting with natural paints
Students painting with natural paints. Photo credit: Michelle Garvey

Another especially cool part of the trip was trying out natural paints made from plants invasive to Minnesota like sumac, buckthorn, walnut, and grape. There were also jars of diluted vinegar and diluted baking soda that people could drop onto their art, making chemical reactions that changed the paint color. It was so much fun trying natural paints that won’t cause any harm to the environment, since many paints sold in stores contain destructive toxins. 

The EJ program has a tradition of adding pieces of blue fabric to the trees with encouraging messages written on them to the Water Protectors. We were stocked with over 100 pieces of fabric, thanks to our cohort member, Trinity, who brought old fabrics to reuse for our trip. Throughout the day, we encouraged others to write down messages to the Water Protectors and ended up with a plethora of uplifting words. It was a beautiful sight to see as we added new fabrics to the past fabric floods from previous years. The fabrics waving in the forest on barren trees made the blue colors stand out and emphasized the words of encouragement to the Water Protectors. 

Photo of fabric with inspirational messages to Water Protectors
Fabric Flood at Akiing Fall Gathering. Photo credit: Michelle Garvey

After a water prayer led by Indigenious activists at the Mississippi River, we reconvened and ate some yummy food by a bonfire. The camp’s cook was serving Indigenious food including manoomin, fish, buffalo meatballs, cornbread, and a super filling chili with veggies and beans. It was incredible to be surrounded by and converse with so many wonderful, revolutionary people while the fire kept us warm during a crisp, cold fall night. There was so much joy as we sang together. I am so appreciative of HECUA and Michelle for putting this trip together. I am extremely grateful for the community that continues to grow at each site we visit and for the close knit nature of our cohort that makes me feel so accepted and eager to keep unlearning and relearning. The experiences I have gained so far this semester would not be possible without the chance to connect with many amazing community members.

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