I moved to Arizona, and my intellectual understanding of the sacred value and the secular importance of water grew in a place of water scarcity. I kept painting the Mississippi, deepening my own understanding of how it is that this river carries the heart blood of the continent, from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. From my youth I knew the Mississippi as Old Man River carrying barges north and south, fed by the brooks and streams of my Wisconsin homeland. I knew the Mississippi as the great east/west divide in the social language of the modern American. Through my painting I know it as so much more, a throbbing water system, springing forth from the Rocky Mountains in western Montana as the Missouri, and from the east as the Ohio, the flowing life, the heart of the North American continent.
After Arizona, I crossed the Mississippi, moved east to Virginia. I am still painting, and I am still far from home. But news from the west makes it over the Appalachian Mountains. In January 2016 we heard about the political movement around the Dakota Access Pipeline project, a major pipeline to transport oil from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota underneath parts of our continent’s life supporting water system so that someone can make some money.
Nothing in my earthling heart was warmed by anything about the Dakota Access project. Not the methods of mining nor the proliferation of the mines nor the economics of the mines, and certainly not the transportation of dirty flammable oil across the country on trains and in pipelines.
My heart was warmed by the Dakota Pipeline resistance on the ground at Standing Rock, Dakota, and while I knew my being there wouldn’t help, I wondered what I could do to step up as a water protector, as well. I started painting a picture of Lake Oahe.
Part of the Missouri River, part of the Mississippi watershed, Lake Oahe is threatened by the pipeline crossing. Now my painting is finished. The politics and business of oil pipelines continues, and Water Protectors in North Dakota have been arrested and imprisoned.
One of those arrested was Red Fawn Fallis, whose arresting deputy claimed her disorderly conduct was evidenced in her shouting “Water is Life.”
I do not know Red Fawn Fallis, but I know that water is life, and it is unacceptable that Red Fawn is in prison.
The Water Protector Legal Collective reports the progress of the government cases against the water protectors and links to sites where financial support can be placed. I have dreams of typing generous amounts of money into Red Fawn’s paypal account, and having little money, I offer the citizens of the world the opportunity to watch my Water is Life slideshow, with the soundtrack a Walter/Wright version of the Dakota Lullaby by Tom Peterson, and then buy an 12×18″ print of the painting. Half the proceeds, after expenses, will go to Red Fawn.
Tom Peterson lives in South Dakota and told me the song was written for all and about all people, not only the Lakota people. We all need to protect water. My painting is what I have to offer.