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On the river: Indigo Girls and Line 3 activists host Protect the Water concert in Aitkin County

The day’s musical highlights included Annie Humphrey’s powerful folk songs and screamed chants that echoed down the river canyon, David Huckfelt’s mesmerizing beat-ballads, and two renditions of Keith Secola’s classic “Indian Cars.”

The Indigo Girls (Amy Ray and Emily Saliers, left-to-right) performed at the Protect the Water concert Monday afternoon in Aitkin County.
The Indigo Girls (Amy Ray and Emily Saliers, left-to-right) performed at the Protect the Water concert Monday afternoon in Aitkin County.
MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

Amy Ray spoke for many of the 100 or so Indigo Girls fans and human rights activists gathered on the shore of the Haha Wakpa (Mississippi) river in northern Minnesota Monday when she said, “This is the coolest thing we’ve ever done.”

Flanked by her fellow Indigo Girl Emily Saliers, Ray was speaking from a microphone set up on a pontoon in the middle of the river — a “free speech” zone created by Water Protectors, who have set up camp and a small tent village, Water Protector Welcome Center, on the edge of Great River Road, which runs along the river just north of Palisade, Minnesota, in Aitkin County. Monday’s Protect the Water event was by organized by Honor the Earth, the organization founded by environmental activist Winona LaDuke and the Indigo Girls 27 years ago.

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“Winona said, ‘We’re gonna put you on a boat on the river. They can’t arrest you out there,’” said Ray at the outset of the Indigo Girls’ hourlong set, which included a rousing finale of their classic ode-to-hope “Closer to Fine,” for which fellow songwriters/musicians and Protect the Water performers David Huckfelt, Annie Humphrey and Keith Secola were paddled out for in a canoe, to soft applause from the crowd on the shore and the dancers/celebrants on the bobbing “Stop Line 3” docks anchored in the river.

The banks of the Mississippi River and the Great River Road in Aitkin County outside of Palisades are dotted with pro-water and anti-Line 3 and -Enbridge signs.
MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh
The banks of the Mississippi River and the Great River Road in Aitkin County outside of Palisades are dotted with pro-water and anti-Line 3 and -Enbridge signs.
On a sunny day where the backdrop of the super-DIY amphitheater was the riverbank and signs reading “Stop Line 3” and “Stop Flirting With Disaster,” and with the entire setting providing an organic scene that poetically lived up to the Dakota’s “The land where the water is so clear it meets the skies” designation, the LaDuke- and Water Protectors-led event was yet another creative way of opposing Enbridge, as they have been for the past seven years.

Recent wins against the likes of the Keystone pipeline have buoyed activists’ spirits in the face of Enbridge and its partners’ continued drilling and boring on ceded land per the 1855 treaty. But as the Star Tribune said in its concert announcement: “On June 14 the Minnesota Court of Appeals affirmed the State of Minnesota’s approval of Calgary-based Enbridge’s Line 3 project.”

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As has been the case for the last several years, both sides of the river and the Great River Road were dotted Monday with pro-water and anti-Line 3 and -Enbridge signs. Monday evening with the sun high in the sky, the river waters underneath them and surrounded by concert-goers in canoes and kayaks and another 100 or so on the shore of the make-shift amphitheater, the Indigo Girls performed songs about family, love, heartbreak and protecting Mother Earth, including “Go,” which was inspired by Minnesota activist and writer Meridel Le Sueur’s “I Was Marching.”

They talked about motherhood and grief and love, and debuted a new Indigos song written for the Protect the Water occasion, a gospel singalong that came with a chorus of “Can’t cross the river today,” a coda of “Water is life and it’s well worth the fight,” and a hot-take verse that puts fire to the feet of the Public Utilities Commission, the President of the United States and the Governor of Minnesota:

You can’t break those treaties today oh no

You can’t break those treaties today

We’re standing on the shoulders of the ones who came before us and

You can’t break those treaties today

 

Where’s Biden when we need him

He promised, we believed him

Didn’t he learn anything from

Standing Rock?

Hey there PUC regulate the corporate greed

Governor, won’t you do your job?

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Amiable, funny and relentless, LaDuke is fond of saying “we need to start doing smart things, not dumb things,” and points to renewable energy, hemp farming and an emphasis on taking care of the natural world over the fossil fuel system that continues to wreak havoc on the environment. LaDuke encouraged all gathered to be careful in the “Deep North” of Aitkin County and its outskirts, where many Enbridge protesters have been arrested of late, and warned all concerned to be on the lookout for police looking to make arrests.

To that end, the day’s musical highlights included Annie Humphrey’s powerful folk songs and screamed chants that echoed down the river canyon, David Huckfelt’s mesmerizing beat-ballads, and two renditions of Keith Secola’s classic “Indian Cars,” which beautifully and humorously-harrowingly details the travails of driving while Native in a police state, which this day was repurposed for Palisades and Line 3 country, inspiring chants of “We’re still here, stop line 3!” and “Frack you and all your friends, too!”

Early in the afternoon, the pre-concert mix playing over the p.a. and wafting out over the river was equally edifying and mood-setting, highlighted by plays of “No More Pipeline Blues” and the Indigenous Futurisms Mixtape.

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The day’s program started with a prayer, a song of appreciation for LaDuke from activist/artist/writer Sharon Day, and then came the singularly beautiful concert on the river, which was highlighted by Secola’s loon-like Native American flute solos, a closing drum song, and several topical, thoughtful, heartfelt songs. When it was done, the Indigo Girls paddled off into the sunset and moonrise over the river, then they and most everybody climbed up the riverbank and adjourned for a feast across the Great River Road back at the Water Protector Welcome Center, with food courtesy of the Sioux Chef.

All in all, it was a memorable and meaningful day of music and activism — all of which was had, yes, for free (donations were and are accepted).

MinnPost took in the Protect the Water concert, in words and photos:

Winona LaDuke
MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh
Winona LaDuke introduced Huckfelt, Secola, and Humphrey Monday, and thanked them and the crowd, saying: “The Creator put us here and we are here for this water and we are here for this land. And so I just want to thank you all for coming out. As you can see, it's a pretty tough battle up here. So we appreciate you coming up, but it does not look … it looks like a brutal battle for the next month, and we're gonna need people to come and stand for the water. That is the truth.”
The banks of the Mississippi River and the Great River Road in Aitkin County outside of Palisades are dotted with pro-water and anti-Line 3 and -Enbridge signs.
MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh
The banks of the Mississippi River and the Great River Road in Aitkin County outside of Palisades are dotted with pro-water and anti-Line 3 and -Enbridge signs.
David Huckfelt, Keith Secola, and Annie Humphrey performed at the Protect the Water concert in Aitkin County Monday.
MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh
David Huckfelt, Keith Secola, and Annie Humphrey performed at the Protect the Water concert in Aitkin County Monday.
Keith Secola and David Huckfelt performed Monday at the Protect the Water concert. Said Huckfelt: “If you're not, you know, an idiot or blind, you start to realize that the further you pull the lens back the more suffering that's been going on in our country underneath our false sense of history. So to me, to be here is a voting with your feet, showing up in person, and recognizing really to say ‘Thank you’ to the Water Protectors, because it's not just their water that they're fighting for up here. It's our water and so it's our responsibility, whoever we are, to show up and do our part and I have tremendous respect for them, these are my heroes here: When we finally dynamite Mount Rushmore, and there are just piles of rubble there, it will look more like Paha Sapa did from beginningless time, and we can name the beautiful rubble peaks after Winona, Tara Houska, Tania Aubid, Mary Lyons and Sharon Day. Those are the people who I follow to learn how to do this work, this [particular] kind of important work. I want my music to play whatever small role it can; I love playing at events as radical as this. I'm here for all that stuff: for the music, for the people, and to say ‘Thank you.’”
MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh
Keith Secola and David Huckfelt performed Monday at the Protect the Water concert. Said Huckfelt: “If you're not, you know, an idiot or blind, you start to realize that the further you pull the lens back the more suffering that's been going on in our country underneath our false sense of history. So to me, to be here is a voting with your feet, showing up in person, and recognizing really to say ‘Thank you’ to the Water Protectors, because it's not just their water that they're fighting for up here. It's our water and so it's our responsibility, whoever we are, to show up and do our part and I have tremendous respect for them, these are my heroes here: When we finally dynamite Mount Rushmore, and there are just piles of rubble there, it will look more like Paha Sapa did from beginningless time, and we can name the beautiful rubble peaks after Winona, Tara Houska, Tania Aubid, Mary Lyons and Sharon Day. Those are the people who I follow to learn how to do this work, this [particular] kind of important work. I want my music to play whatever small role it can; I love playing at events as radical as this. I'm here for all that stuff: for the music, for the people, and to say ‘Thank you.’”
The banks of the Mississippi River and the Great River Road in Aitkin County outside of Palisades are dotted with pro-water and anti-Line 3 and -Enbridge signs.
MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh
The banks of the Mississippi River and the Great River Road in Aitkin County outside of Palisades are dotted with pro-water and anti-Line 3 and -Enbridge signs.
The banks of the Mississippi River and the Great River Road in Aitkin County outside of Palisades are dotted with pro-water and anti-Line 3 and -Enbridge signs.
MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh
The banks of the Mississippi River and the Great River Road in Aitkin County outside of Palisades are dotted with pro-water and anti-Line 3 and -Enbridge signs.
A “free speech zone” was set up on the river, in mock defiance of authorities attempting to censor activists and historians.
MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh
A “free speech zone” was set up on the river, in mock defiance of authorities attempting to censor activists and historians.
The banks of the Mississippi River and the Great River Road in Aitkin County outside of Palisades are dotted with pro-water and anti-Line 3 and -Enbridge signs.
MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh
The banks of the Mississippi River and the Great River Road in Aitkin County outside of Palisades are dotted with pro-water and anti-Line 3 and -Enbridge signs.
From the shore, Winona LaDuke introduced the Indigo Girls, who were floating with their guitars on a pontoon in the middle of the Mississippi River: “This is our chance. Our people talk about this prophecy as the time of the seven fire time when we have a choice between a scorched path and a green path. And we're asking you the people of Minnesota and wherever you came from to stand up for the green path."
MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh
From the shore, Winona LaDuke introduced the Indigo Girls, who were floating with their guitars on a pontoon in the middle of the Mississippi River: “This is our chance. Our people talk about this prophecy as the time of the seven fire time when we have a choice between a scorched path and a green path. And we're asking you the people of Minnesota and wherever you came from to stand up for the green path. ... Someone needs to say, ‘The water needs to belong to the people. To the clams, to the fish, to the plants, to the wild rice, and not to a Canadian multinational.’ It's time to come out and how do I know? Readiness kicks in, you just keep pushing. That's what I know. You know Keystone’s down; Jordan Cove and Constitution pipeline — those pipelines are never gonna happen. You know, Enbridge is not going to be able to continue in the streets, [because] I'm not gonna [stop]. So when I say keep pushing, I mean keep pushing and stand for the water and come up here. Don't be like all weird and hang out in the Cities in the summer, why would you want to do that forever? Find a river. There's 22 of them that need help. This one here. All of them are my sisters, [as are] Amy and Emily. They've been with us a long time. They came here to sing for the river and sing for all of you and fill our hearts full of love, because as we all know, who wants to be in the revolution if you can't dance?"
Amy Ray, Keith Secola, David Huckfelt, Annie Humphrey and Emily Saliers finished off the concert with rousing renditions of the Indigo Girls’ “Closer To Fine” and Secola’s “Indian Cars.”
MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh
Amy Ray, Keith Secola, David Huckfelt, Annie Humphrey and Emily Saliers finished off the concert with rousing renditions of the Indigo Girls’ “Closer To Fine” and Secola’s “Indian Cars.”
A post-concert feast was had and enjoyed by all at the Water Protectors Welcome Center, with food provided by The Sioux Chef.
MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh
A post-concert feast was had and enjoyed by all at the Water Protectors Welcome Center, with food provided by The Sioux Chef.
The banks of the Mississippi River and the Great River Road in Aitkin County outside of Palisades are dotted with pro-water and anti-Line 3 and -Enbridge signs.
MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh
The banks of the Mississippi River and the Great River Road in Aitkin County outside of Palisades are dotted with pro-water and anti-Line 3 and -Enbridge signs.