By Rachel O’Keeffe, Food & Water Watch Northwest Organizing Intern
As Anna Mae Leonard and JoDe Goudy chanted a mesmeric prayer song, captivating the audience of environmentalists, reporters, bystanders, and tribal members alike, a veil of respect and resolve set in.
We were standing on the steps of Oregon’s State Capital, at a press conference hosted by Keep Nestlé Out of the Gorge coalition groups to show solidarity with Anna Mae and the Columbia River Fishing Tribes. Anna Mae fasted for five days, without food or water, the week of September 19th, a week chosen to coincide with state legislators convening in Salem for the State Legislative Days. She fasted to bring attention to the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife’s (ODFW) disregard of treaty rights and the region’s tribes’ wishes to protect sacred water from Nestlé. By moving forward with the water exchange process for Nestlé’s benefit, ODFW is also ignoring a majority of Hood River County voters and the law they voted into effect prohibiting all commercial water bottling. Governor Kate Brown, who has the power to force ODFW to pull out of any deal with Nestlé, has yet to take a stand or act on the issue. Her inaction leaves Oregon residents no choice but to question whose side she is on—it certainly seems preferential to Nestlé and against the residents and Tribes of the Gorge.
My introduction to Food & Water Watch has been a plunge-right-in approach and it has been equal parts invigorating and infuriating. Infuriating because I’ve come to learn that you can PASS A LAW that bans a corporation from doing something, and that corporation will still try to do that exact thing.
In May, 69% of Hood River County voters passed a ballot initiative that banned commercial water bottling, yet Nestlé is still moving forward with its plan. Last year, President Obama vetoed a bill authorizing the Keystone XL Pipeline, but the pipeline battle cropped up elsewhere. Now indigenous peoples are on the frontline in North Dakota protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline—the northern part of two pipelines that together follow a similar path to the Keystone XL Pipeline. Both Nestlé and Big Oil are moving forward in some way or another.
Corporations are not entitled to our public resources and we cannot afford to not stand up to them. The experience at the Oregon State Capitol has reinvigorated my desire to fight these corporations, because I’m surrounded by people who are fighting harder and sacrificing more than I ever could. Anna Mae Leonard gave up food and water for five days for this cause. JoDe Goudy, chairman of the Yakama Nation, stated the Yakama Nation will sue the state of Oregon if Nestlé is authorized to commercially bottle water in Oxbow Springs. Last month peaceful protesting members of the Standing Rock Sioux were confronted with pepper spray and dogs while expressing their opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline that would threaten their water and sacred sites. JoDe Goudy was among the thousands of indigenous peoples that gathered, who traveled great distances and camped in areas cutoff from water and sanitation resources in order to demonstrate their opposition to the pipeline.
On September 21st, Food & Water Watch, Local Water Alliance, Bark, Oregon AFSCME, and Oregonians stood in solidarity with Anna Mae, JoDe Goudy, and the Columbia River Fishing Tribes. Just as indigenous communities were not consulted or considered in the Dakota Access Pipeline project, the Columbia River Fishing Tribes were not adequately consulted on the state’s water exchange process for Nestlé’s profit. Governor Kate Brown even declined to meet with JoDe Goudy on the 21st or with Anna Mae Leonard at any point during her five day sacrifice.
Within my first month as the northwest organizing intern at Food & Water Watch, I’ve developed a greater amount of respect for those who take a stand. If Oregon residents and the Columbia River Fishing Tribes aren’t holding Governor Brown and ODFW accountable, if environmentalists and the Standing River Sioux aren’t protesting in North Dakota – if we don’t take a stand – then our increasingly scarce water resources will be comprised. We can’t let that happen.