Miguel Levy of Houghton took this photo of the "Shut Down Line 5" banner from his kayak during the Sept. 3, 2016, Pipe Out Paddle protest against Enbridge's 63-year-old pipeline under the Straits of Mackinac. At right is the south end of the Mackinac Bridge. (Photo © and courtesy Miguel Levy)
MACKINAW CITY -- For the second year in a row, concerned citizens -- Native and non-Native -- paddled kayaks and canoes from the beach near Lighthouse Park in Mackinaw City to protest Enbridge's 63-year-old Line 5 pipeline under the Straits of Mackinac. The 2016 Pipe Out Paddle flotilla protest attracted about 150 participants and included two launches on Saturday, Sept. 3 -- two days before the Labor Day Mackinac Bridge Walk
Miguel and Anita Levy of Houghton participated in the Pipe Out Paddle event for the second year. This time they happened to be walking in Mackinaw City the preceding evening and joined other activists in an impromptu event, carrying cardboard letters made with little light bulbs to protest both the Line 5 pipeline and the North Dakota Access Pipeline. Each person carried one letter to form the signs and they walked towards the highway to attract the attention of passing cars.
On Sept. 2, the night before the Pipe Out Paddle event, protesters convey their message with lighted cardboard letters in Mackinaw City. (Photo © and courtesy Miguel Levy)
On Saturday Miguel paddled a kayak for the first time ever to join the flotilla protest.
"It was exciting to have this connection emphasizing the need to protect our water, sacred water to the Native American peoples, water important for all of us, clearly against the profit-making interests of the Oil Companies," Anita said.
Darren Weinnert, a young tourist and photographer from Altoona, Pennsylvania, was on his way to the Upper Peninsula, hoping to visit the Keweenaw -- destination Copper Harbor -- when he learned about the protest and attended the event.
On his way to the U.P., Pennsylvania resident Darren Weinnert poses with two lovely protesters at the Pipe Out Paddle event -- Mari Raphael, left, of Peshawbestown, Mich., a member of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, and Denise Sica of Northport, Mich. -- both from the Leelanau Peninsula on Lake Michigan. (Photo by Keweenaw Now)
"I think it's awesome," Weinnert said of this second Pipe Out Paddle protest to create awareness of the dangers to Great Lakes waters from a potential oil spill. "Global warming is a concern, but nobody pays attention to the water."
Kayactivists at the Sept. 3, 2016, Pipe Out Paddle protest, raise their "Water is Life" banner. (Photo by Keweenaw Now)
Another tourist who just happened to arrive at the event, not knowing what it was about at first, was Ryan Haury of Ferndale, Mich., who had been camping at the nearby Dark Sky Park and was excited about having seen Northern Lights over the Mackinac Bridge during his stay.
"Sustainable energy is the future -- water, solar, wind -- not fossil fuels," Haury said. "I think fossil fuels -- coal and oil -- are only being used now because of lobbyists controlling the decisions of politicians -- lining their pockets with money in order to keep coal and oil running."
Haury noted the fact that Republicans deny that global warming exists is due to this lobbying for coal and oil.
"And I miss Bernie Sanders," he added.
Jannan Cornstalk, citizen of the Little Traverse Bay Bands (LTBB) of Odawa Indians and organizer of the event, was pleased with the number of participants, considering the fact that many activists had gone to the Dakotas to join the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe's protest against the North Dakota Access Pipeline, happening at the same time.*
Pipe Out Paddle organizer Jannan Cornstalk, right, is pictured here with her daughter, Jannan Cotto. Both are from Petoskey, Mich., and citizens of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians (LTBB). Cotto is also LTBB education director. (Photo by Keweenaw Now)
"I'm really pleased with the turnout, and the weather is stellar," Cornstalk told Keweenaw Now, "and I'm glad that the tribal jiimans (large canoes) were able to come."
A jiiman (tribal canoe) participates in the Sept. 3, 2016, Pipe Out Paddle protest near the Mackinac Bridge. (Photo © and courtesy Miguel Levy)
During an interview by a local TV station, Cornstalk speaks about the reasons for Pipe Out Paddle event and confirms the group's solidarity with those protesting the North Dakota Access Pipeline:
Tamela Okerley of Petoskey, elder outreach coordinator for the Michigan Indian Elders Association, said 11 of 12 Michigan tribes have signed a resolution requesting the shutdown of Line 5.**
"That resolution will be going out to the Governor and state reps and other politicians," Okerley noted. "The elders are the water keepers."
Wearing AIM (American Indian Movement) t-shirts, LTTB citizens Michael Smith of Harbor Springs and Tamela Okerley of Petoskey, show their solidarity with AIM values.
Michael Smith of Harbor Springs, LTTB citizen and AIM representative, explained why he, Okerley and others were wearing AIM t-shirts.
"We're wearing what we believe their beliefs are -- to stand up for our rights," Smith said.
One of the groups involved in the Pipe Out Paddle event was MICATS (Michigan Coalition Against Tar Sands). Duncan, a member of MICATS, came from Lansing to join the protest against Line 5.
"I came because this is an issue about not only protesting the water that sustains us but also because it's part of the ongoing struggle against settler colonialism," Duncan said. "Indigenous folks who've lived here for hundreds of years are calling for this pipeline to be shut down, and I'm here because I want to take a stand against the violence that's been perpetrated by my ancestors."
Duncan of MICATS traveled from Lansing for the protest against Line 5. He is a history major about to graduate from Michigan State University. (Photo by Keweenaw Now)
Valerie Jean of Detroit, photographer and member of MICATS and DCATS (Detroit Coalition Against Tar Sands), helped organize the Pipe Out Paddle protest for the second year.
"To me we are at a monumental moment where we have to, by any means necessary, get Line 5 decommissioned for future generations," Valerie Jean said. "We're actually taking future generations' lives and putting them in jeopardy by having that oil pipeline run through the Great Lakes."
June Thaden of Traverse City, board member of the Northern Michigan Environmental Action Council, said her group is working with Oil and Water Don't Mix on their project to shut down Line 5.***
"Water is life," Thaden said, means "the economy up here -- in all of northern Michigan, even in Traverse City, will be affected. "Who wants to see water with oil in it?"
She noted especially the effect a spill would have on tourism in the area.
"Even if somehow they manage to clean it up so it's not visible, people will still remember and tourists will not even come here," Thaden added.
After enjoying the free lunch offered by the Pipe Out Paddle organizers, kayactivists from the Traverse City area look forward to participating in the afternoon kayak/canoe launch. (Photo by Keweenaw Now)
Marti Wesley, a retired teacher from Saginaw, said she just learned about the Line 5 pipeline via Facebook during the past eight months. She belongs to a kayak group and said she was looking forward to participating in the afternoon launch. Since it was Labor Day weekend she wasn't able to convince other members of the group to attend so she drove up to Mackinaw City by herself.
"Retirees should be out there," Wesley noted. "That's why I'm here."
Press Conference speakers on "Water is Life"
Between lunchtime and the afternoon launch, organizer Jannan Cornstalk hosted a press conference with speakers of different ages who gave testimonies on the importance of protecting the water.
John Petoskey, a citizen of the Grand Traverse Band, reminded the audience of the current legal status of a petition to end fracking in Michigan. He was followed by young Cole Mays and his mother, Melissa Mays, who spoke about living in Flint with the water pollution crisis there.
Melissa Mays, Cole's mother, speaks about the hardships and dangerous health effects still endured by Flint families because of the poisoning of their drinking water with lead and other pollutants. (Photo by Keweenaw Now)****
Fred Harrington, local resident and LTBB citizen, spoke about enjoying the water with his grandson and his concern that an oil spill in the Straits could ruin the whole area.
Fred Harrington of LTBB speaks about his concerns for the water. (Photo by Keweenaw Now)
"Humans need water. We don't own it. It owns us," Harrington said. "We have to take care of the water."
Harrington added that citizens cannot let commercialism and capitalism destroy the water here as it has in other parts of the world.
Karlee Exelby, 10, spoke at the press conference on her love of the water. Here she is pictured with her mother, Tina Dominic. Karlee and her Mom, LTBB citizens from Petoskey, volunteered to do face painting at the event. (Photo by Keweenaw Now)
Aaron Payment, chair of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, spoke during the press conference about the failures of state officials to act on the dangers of a potential oil spill from the aging Line 5 pipeline under the Straits. He gave several reasons for his position: shutting down Line 5.
Jannan Cornstalk summed up the concerns of the activists at the Pipe Out Paddle event, noting that, following a prophecy, water is going to be like gold in the future.
"Our water is in a state of emergency right now," she said.
Oil and Water Don't Mix campaign calls for action
Several representatives from tribal and environmental groups participated in the Labor Day Mackinac Bridge Walk with Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder. One of these groups, Oil and Water Don't Mix, posted on Facebook a video of their effort to speak to the Governor during a press conference following his completion of the walk. He barely answered their question and walked away.
Click here to see two Oil and Water Don't Mix videos on their Facebook page from their protest at the end of the Labor Day Bridge Walk (Sept. 5, 2016).
A news article from Oil and Water Don't Mix dated today, Sept. 14, 2016, states the following:
"Following a plea for urgent action from one of Gov. Rick Snyder’s top oil pipeline advisors, citizens groups committed to ending the threat of oil spills in the Great Lakes today called on the state’s pipeline safety panel to stop the flow of oil through Enbridge’s Line 5 in the Straits of Mackinac during dangerous icy winter months when oil spill recovery is nearly impossible."
Click here to read the rest of this Oil and Water Don't Mix article and to sign on to the letter calling for action.
* Read about the Standing Rock protest here.
** Click here for a list of individual tribal resolutions against Line 5.
*** See Oil and Water Don't Mix for information about their campaign.
**** Click here to see the Detroit Free Press timeline on the Flint water crisis.