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Saturday, October 17, 2020

Ancient underwater tribal cultural site discovered in Mackinac Straits near Line 5

Jiimaan (Anishinaabek canoe) and trolling motor. (Photo © and courtesy Philip Hutchinson)
 
MACKINAW CITY -- On June 25, Judge James Jamo struck fear into the hearts of many in Michigan when he stated that the State of Michigan’s ability to fulfill its "duty to protect public trust lands" was compromised "as a result of (Enbridge’s) failures." The harsh reality of this statement inspired a small group of women to answer the call to protect water and land. Their discoveries may fundamentally shift what's allowable for Line 5 moving forward -- or at least that's the hope.
 
One of the most significant ancient underwater archaeological sites in the Great Lakes may have been discovered in the Straits of Mackinac just a short paddle west of Enbridge Line 5.
On September 23, 2020, a small crew headed onto the Straits of Mackinac in fog so thick they couldn’t see the Mackinac Bridge. Using a remote operated vehicle (ROV), the team explored an area just west of Line 5. Their video captured at least one submerged cultural site. This stone circle is consistent with other underwater and terrestrial finds near Grand Traverse Bay, the Alpena-Amberley Ridge in Lake Huron and on Beaver Island.
 
Potential cultural site observed with side-scan sonar in late summer 2020. Note circle of stones that may have been placed in this arrangement about 10,000 years ago, near the end of the Ice Age, when the area would have been above water. (Photo courtesy Terri Wilkerson)
 
If these other cultural sites are so well known, why hasn’t a full archaeological survey been done on the bottomlands of the Straits of Mackinac? Given the imminent danger Line 5 represents, water protectors call for the immediate halt to all oil flowing through Michigan and a complete archeological survey of the lakebed in the Straits.
 
Sovereignty enacted
 
Most of the individuals in this determined team of water protectors are Michigan tribal citizens. Investigating our ancient cultural sites is an enactment of our inherent sovereignty as indigenous peoples, as well as our reserved treaty rights. The treaties dispossessed us of most of our lands -- but not our rights, which were explicitly reserved in the treaties by our chiefs.

Despite their sovereign, treaty-protected rights, tribes have rarely been consulted or involved with decisions that impact their waters and historic territory. Consequently, tribes are increasingly turning to legal action to protect their rights and the environment in general. Tribal citizens are also engaging with environmental groups, Michigan citizens, and legislators alarmed by the growing threats to our natural resources.

In the June hearings regarding the latest damage to Line 5, Judge Jamo repeatedly asked why there hasn’t been an independent look at Line 5 and said he "clearly felt I did not have credible, reliable information." So, water advocate Terri Wilkerson started building support to gather just that. In September, Wilkerson hired a survey boat in preparation for getting an independent look at Line 5. While investigating the Straits bottomlands, the vessel’s side-scan sonar inadvertently revealed a potential  site.
 

Terri Wilkerson during the Sept. 23, 2020, exploration. (Photo © and courtesy Terri Wilkerson)
 
Three of this core group of female water protectors are tribal citizens -- Andrea Pierce and Robin Lees, Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians (LTBBOI), and Kelly Willis of the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe. In Anishinaabe culture, women protect the waters. These women are not representing their tribes in any official capacity but are advocating as women empowered under ancient tribal protocols.
 
Wilkerson is a Pinckney resident -- mostly retired after 30 years as a real estate broker to focus on water advocacy, social justice, and making democracy work for everyone by helping to start a League of Women Voters chapter in Livingston County where she lives.
 
Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) on Jiimaan canoe. (Photo © and courtesy Adam Zwickle)

The ROV and sonar findings seem to show that Line 5 runs through precious, ancient cultural sites. Findings are now being reviewed by an underwater archeologist. Though these sites are now underwater, approximately 9,000 years ago the Great Lakes water levels were much lower, and evidence of human habitation encircles the northern tip of the Michigan mitt.

Circles. (Photo © and courtesy Fred Harrington, Jr.)

Jiimaan canoe

When side-scan sonar revealed the potential cultural site, the female water protectors reached out to Fred Harrington, Jr. Harrington is a Navy veteran, LTBBOI tribal councilman and citizen, and professor emeritus. He offered to use a community canoe named Jiimaan, which means "they are kissing" in the language of the Anishinaabek (Odawa, Ojibwe, Potawatomi).
 
Fred Harrington on Sept. 23, 2020, a foggy day of cultural site exploration. (Photo © and courtesy Terri Wilkerson)

 
Paddlers "practicing" with the ROV and the Jiinaan. (Photo courtesy Terri Wilkerson)

This wooden watercraft was built in 1999 as an act of cultural sovereignty by members of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians community in the Petoskey area. It has been used for activism, youth education, and community paddles ever since.

A Jiimaan (tribal canoe) participates in the Sept. 3, 2016, Pipe Out Paddle protest against Line 5 near the Mackinac Bridge. (Keweenaw Now file photo © and courtesy Miguel Levy)

Scott Wyzlic, a Grand River Bands of Ottawa Indians tribal citizen, assisted with towing and surveillance from his 21-foot fishing vessel, Inchworm. Scott’s Anishinaabe name is Ossokeh Ahninii.

Water protectors secured a letter of support from Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians for their efforts to get an independent look at Line 5.

Grave concerns about Line 5

Line 5 is a 67-year-old, anchor damaged, deteriorating pipeline that originates in Canada. As it takes a 645-mile shortcut through Michigan before returning to Canada with about 95 percent of the nearly 23 million gallons of oil it carries, Line 5 passes through more than 23 counties and over 400 Michigan waterways. However, the area where Line 5 crosses in the Straits of Mackinac is the most vulnerable to an oil spill. Here, for about 4.5 miles, Line 5 becomes two 20-inch oil pipelines which run under the water just west of the Mackinac Bridge.

Even a small spill would likely impact 37 miles of shoreline. A large one could impact 722 miles of shoreline. This comparison shows 3 different spill scenarios and the ping pong nature of how water acts in the Straits. The Great Lakes supply the water to over 40 million people and are the backbone of Michigan’s tourist economy.

A contractor for the Coast Guard estimates that a clean-up of 30 percent of an oil spill here would be the best case scenario. This assumes there is daylight and waves of less than three feet, and no  ice as they are not fully prepared to handle an open water spill when the Straits are iced-over.

As Lester Graham of Michigan Radio recently reported, "Even if you shut the valves on either side, there’s close to 388,000 gallons of oil in each pipeline (of the 2 sections of Line 5 in the Straits). If both pipelines were damaged, you could see an oil spill nearly as big as the Enbridge Line 6B spill in the Kalamazoo River ten years ago. It was one of the biggest inland oil spills in the country."

Enbridge, Inc. is the Canadian Company that operates Line 5 because of an easement granted by the State of Michigan in 1953. The 12 Federally recognized Tribes of Michigan were never consulted nor did they give permission for the granting of this easement. Enbridge is responsible for the top two largest inland oil spills in the United States -- Line 3 which broke in 1991 near Grand Rapids, Minn., spilling over 1.7 million gallons of oil, and Line 6B that broke and contaminated the Kalamazoo River watershed in 2010 with over a million gallons of oil per the EPA. The Michigan spill spoiled 35 miles of river and shore badly enough that they were closed for two years. State and federal documents show that Enbridge has been in violation of the easement rules for years. On June 19, 2020, Enbridge was ordered to pay $6.7 million in fines for violating federal court order on pipeline safety. Enbridge has shown itself not to be trustworthy of protecting the Great Lakes.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel has called for the shutdown of Line 5. She has also commented on the UP Energy Task Force report on alternatives to Line 5 for supplying propane to the UP.

Shutting Line 5 down is in Michigan’s best interest. Governor Whitmer campaigned on shutting down Line 5 but has yet to revoke the easement that allows its continued operation.

Comment period on Enbridge tunnel permits ends Oct. 19

Enbridge hopes to replace Line 5 with a tunnel to include a new pipeline under the bottomland of the Straits. Recently the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) held information meetings and public hearings on Enbridge's permit applications for their tunnel project, which would mean 5 to 10 years of tunnel construction while leaving the ageing Line 5 under the Straits of Mackinac.

A recent message from Andrea Pierce, Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians citizen, asked Native and non-Native water protectors to oppose these permit applications -- under Part 303, Wetlands Protection; and Part 325, Great Lakes Submerged Lands, of the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act, 1994 PA 451, as amended and the NPDES (National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System) permit application -- by submitting public comments to EGLE by the deadline of 11:59 p.m. (EDT) on Monday, Oct. 19.

"We are asking that everyone contact EGLE, MPSC, your senator, congress representative and house representative to make a public comment asking to stop the Line 5 tunnel," Pierce writes. "Please CC: mpscedockets@michigan.gov   cc: governorsoffice@michigan.gov  and YOUR State Reps."

To submit comments on the these permit applications click here: https://www.michigan.gov/line5/0,9833,7-413-102021-537357--,00.html

Comments can also be sent by email to EGLE-Enbridge-Comments@Michigan.gov

NOTE: The recordings of EGLE online informational sessions and public hearings on the Line 5 tunnel application between Sept 8 and Oct 8 are now accessible on the EGLE Line 5 information page: https://www.michigan.gov/line5/ 

Inset photo: Andrea Pierce. (Photo © Steve Gutt and courtesy Andrea Pierce)

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