I felt a pang of recognition as I pulled this card, Black White Red: Transcending the Body. I guess that’s what I’ve been trying to do lately, push myself past the limits of my own energy. I know I am not alone. It’s strange that it’s not more difficult, actually, or that my body wouldn’t speak up more loudly to tell me to pay attention. Maybe it’s just easy to ignore. Maybe we are reinforced to ignore it by a capitalist culture that demands it, where endless grinding is easier than taking care of yourself. Where for many people, taking care of themselves stands in the way of their subsistence.
The Black White series is about interconnectedness, and as the seventh and final color set, its messages are always on a collective, societal, or global scale. Black White is also the ultimate lesson of its accompanying color, which in this case is Red. Red is the body, survival, life.
Are we not currently pushing past the limit of the collective human body, let alone the Earth body? How many bodies are exploited to create luxury and power for the (very) few? How often have colors like Black and white and even red been invoked in this exploitation, as a twisted tool to determine whose bodies are expendable? How often is it people of color and Indigenous people who are stewards of the Earth’s body, using their own bodies and their own lives to defend it?
Right now water protectors are putting their bodies on the line to prevent construction of the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline on Ojibwe land in Northern Minnesota. This pipeline is a violation of several treaties, crossing no less than 200 water bodies and 800 wetlands. Line 3 is technically an update to an existing pipeline carrying tar sands oil from Canada to its terminus in Wisconsin at the headwaters of the Mississippi river. Enbridge claims these updates are necessary for safety, but the plan is also expanding the pipeline’s capacity to transport nearly 800,000 barrels of oil a day. As Ojibwe attorney and activist Tara Houska said: “Same risks, same climate impacts, same violations of treaty rights” (Public News Service).
From the Stop Line 3 official website:
“All pipelines spill. Line 3 isn’t about safe transportation of a necessary product, it’s about expansion of a dying tar sands industry. Line 3 would contribute more to climate change than Minnesota’s entire economy. Minnesota’s own Department of Commerce found our local market does not need Line 3 oil. We need to decommission the old Line 3 and justly transition to a renewable, sustainable economy. Line 3 would violate the treaty rights of Anishinaabe peoples and nations in its path—wild rice is a centerpiece of Anishinaabe culture, it grows in numerous watersheds Line 3 seeks to cross. It’s well-past time to end the legacy of theft from and destruction of indigenous peoples and territories.”
Tar sands are possibly the dirtiest fossil fuels on the planet. Their extraction decimates Canadian boreal forests, their transportation through pipelines puts waterways and lifeways at existential risk, and actually using them puts more and more carbon in the air. If the impact on the land, water, and people isn’t enough, what about the climate? We should not be building new pipelines at all, we should be decommissioning them.
Black White Red has different cultural meanings around the world, and certainly different meanings in different Indigenous cultures that I am not privy to. I am seeing though that Black White Red is showing up here not only symbolically but also very physically. These stirring black and white and red prints are the work of the Onaman Collective, specifically by its founding artists Isaac Murdoch and Christi Belcourt. They’ve shared the PDFs and JPEGs of their Protest Banner Art for free online, to download and use in support of water and land protection.
There are actions happening around the country. Print out these banners and put them in your window, and best yet screen print more to hand out. Whenever I see multiple image files I immediately want to see them animated, so I turned these into an animation. The revolution will not be GIFed, but sometimes GIFs help. You can share this one too, making sure to credit the artists.
Okay, there’s more:
This past weekend, not knowing that I was writing about this, two dear friends gifted D and E the book “We Are Water Protectors” by Ojibwe author Carole Lindstrom and Tlingit illustrator Michaela Goade. This lushly watercolored childrens’ book tells the story of an Ojibwe girl fighting against the Dakota Access Pipeline. In the author’s note, Lindstrom says:
“There is an Anishinaabe prophecy that speaks of two roads: One road is a natural path. It leads to global peace and unity that embraces the sacred relationship between humanity and all living things. On this path, all orders of creation—mineral, plant, animal, human—are relatives deserving of respect and care. We are instructed to use our voices to speak for those who have not been given a voice. On this path there is no ‘black snake.’ The Earth is not damaged, and the grass grows lush and green.
This prophecy, known as the Seven Fires Prophecy, says that if humans choose the natural path, then we will proceed toward peace and unity and a healthy Mother Earth.
The other road is described as a hard-surfaced highway where everything moves faster and faster, at an unimaginable speed. In this path, humans embrace technological advancement with little regard for Mother Earth.
Many Native Nations believe this path is symbolized by the oil pipeline, the ‘black snakes’ that crisscross our lands, bringing destruction and harm. This path leads to a damaged Earth.”
Honestly, when I read Lindstrom’s author’s note my first thought was: it’s too late. The black snake is here in so very many forms, not just oil. The speed on this highway is exponential, and there is no way that the dizzying momentum of technological advancement and perceived material comfort will let us exit. There is no way that financial power will let us exit. What other reason is there to build more pipelines besides profits and power? They can cloak this in the promise of jobs, but those jobs are temporary. When the pipeline is completed those workers will still be struggling and Enbridge will still be thriving. Switching to a natural path that embraces unity with the Earth will take no less than upending whole systems. Stopping this pipeline will chop off the head of one black snake.
But that is how the transformation has already begun. Holding up the dangling body of that snake as well as the waterways and lifeways thriving without is the way to illuminate the new path, or a very old path. Centering Indigenous people and their wisdom and leadership is the way to get off that highway, the only way. Tara Houska says that Indigenous people make up 5% of the world’s population but steward 80% of the world’s biodiversity. Giving Indigenous peoples the power and authority to take care of their land (which is really all of it) is the only hope for humanity, or humanity in any form that we recognize.
Black White Red reminds us that the body is real, that all bodies are connected, that the Earth is a body, and that Water is Life. That all three of those colors have been historically used as tools of exploitation to warp what is real about the body and the collective human body, and that this goes hand in hand with the exploitation of the Earth. That centering the leadership of Indigenous people, of Black people, of people of color is the way to live in balance with the Earth. Again, or for the first time at this massive scale.