Nibi Walk on the St. Louis River

The set of images below were captured in northern Minnesota. I was invited to attend the Nibi “Water” Walk along the St. Louis River by Sharon Day.  Sharon is an Ojibwe elder and a Midewin which mean her spiritual practice is to care for the water. Sharon also works for the Indigenous Peoples Task Force which is an awesome organization who sponsored my trip to Minnesota to document the walk.

The water walks are meant to not only spread awareness about issues relating to water but to honor and pray for the spirit of the water.  The St. Louis River starts 13 miles east of Hoyt Lakes, Minnesota and flows into Lake Superior which is considered the largest freshwater lake in the world.  In 1987 the St. Louis river was listed as an “Area of Concern” by the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. Public records state that advisories have been issued due to the presence of mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls that exceed the standards established in the agreement.  Northern Minnesota has a long history of mining. If you take a moment to look at an aerial photo on google maps of Hoyt Lakes, Minnesota (and zoom out) you can see the vast open-pit iron ore mines. According to USGS approximately two thirds of the steel made in America originates as taconite from mines in Minnesota.

There is currently a proposal from PolyMet Mining Corporation to build a sulfide mine called the NorthMet Project. The mine would be located between Babbitt and Hoyt Lakes, Minnesota. The site is located on public land in the Superior National Forest and is near the Embarrass and Partridge Rivers, which subsequently flow into the St. Louis River…. and into Lake Superior which supplies millions of people with drinking water.

The proposal is to develop an open-pit mine to extract copper, nickel and other metals.  Sulfide mining is different from the traditional mining that has taken place in northern Minnesota because sulfuric acid is produced when rain falls on sulfide ore waste. The sulfide waste will need to be managed and treated for hundreds of years. It is very hazardous to the environment and to public health.   Acid mine drainage is currently a huge problem in places like Pennsylvania and my current home state of West Virginia due to the vast amount of mining that has taken place.  Currently, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, U.S. Forest Service, and Army Corps of Engineers are viewing public comments about the proposal.

The proposed mine is a very large environmental and public health topic throughout the state, and it was also a fundamental narrative of the St. Louis water walk.  During the walk we passed numerous large mining sites. Several trains filled with taconite rolled by us and disappeared into the horizon. In the small mining town of Towers a large welcoming banner hung over head stating, “We Support Mining.”  The same slogan could be seen around town on posters that hung outside stores and restaurants. I met a young native girl the first night I arrived in northern Minnesota who said she barely sees her father because he gets home late and leaves very early to go to work in the mines.  The story is complicated and there are a lot of different lens to see it though.  I am currently working on trying to go back to spend more time in northern Minnesota to capture more interviews and produce a larger film about the topic.

At the beginning of the journey we walked through Superior National Forest. It was an incredibly beautiful and peaceful experience. The tamarack trees were a bright yellow and the sky seemed so incredibly blue.  The walk started on rural dirt roads that slowly grew into large paved streets and highways as we continued to get closer to Duluth.  The road gradually became smaller again as we entered Jay Cooke state park and continued through the park to a boat dock. From there we took a boat onto Spirit Island. The sacred island was a stopping place in the migration of the Anishinaabe people from the northeastern part of the continent. It was here that the ceremony ended and the water was released back into the river.

A short film about the journey will be available online in the next few weeks.

 

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People’s Climate March

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The People’s Climate March in New York City this past Sunday was an incredible moment in history. Hundreds of thousands of people attended the event. The most powerful thing about the day was seeing such diverse communities come together with a common cause.  People marched with posters addressing a variety of issues such as hydraulic fracking, the keystone pipeline, tar sands, mountaintop removal, the list goes on and on. I saw activist Patricia Gualinga at the march, an indigenous leader from the Ecuadorian Amazon who is endlessly fighting to stop oil companies from drilling in the Amazon and on her tribal land. She played a key role in the recent historic indigenous rights victory at the Inter- American Court of Human Rights. There is an awesome growing movement of Amazonian women like Patricia Gualinga defending the rainforest.  Last October Patricia walked with women from seven indigenous nationalities over a hundred miles from Puyo to the capital city of Quito to protest the Ecuadorian government’s oil drilling plans in Yasuni-ITT and the southern-central Amazon.

Another incredible woman who I got to spend the day with is Elise Keaton Liegel, Director of Keeper of the Mountains Foundation. Keeper of the Mountains was started by Larry Gibson, an activist from southern West Virginia who spent his life opposing mountaintop removal coal mining. Similar to Patricia and dozens of other women from the Amazon, Larry once walked across the state of West Virginia to protest and speak to communities along the way about mountaintop removal. He started Keepers of the Mountain Foundation to raise awareness and campaign to end Mountaintop Removal. Larry Gibson passed away on September 9, 2012 and is buried on Kayford Mountain – an island forest surrounded by thousands of acres of mountaintop removal devastation. Since I started working on stories about resource extraction in West Virginia I have met so many people who deeply loved and cherished Larry. It seems like every person I interview that knew him has a story they want to share about how he impacted their lives. Through these stories I have come to learn that he was an incredible person and inspired so many to take action.  Elise Keaton grew up in southern West Virginia and is one of many people who loved Larry.  She has also spent much of her adult life fighting the same fight. One of the many things Elise is currently focused on is working with the Kanawha Forest Coaltion to revoke a mountaintop removal mining permit that is less than 5 miles from the state capitol building in downtown Charleston, West Virginia.

On Sunday I couldn’t help but be moved, maybe it was the enormity of the event.  Maybe it was the fact I had traveled to the city on a bus with people from West Virginia and was marching with several people who I had met before and had listened to their stories about how their lives and communities had been affected from resource extraction. Maybe it was this and the recognition that there were thousands of others marching on Sunday with their own stories about how resource extraction has affected them and their communities. But a few times throughout the day I couldn’t help but be moved to the point that my eyes swelled. However, there was one specific moment that really got me.

I was walking with Elise by my side. Her one hand was holding the end of a Keepers of the Mountains banner and in her other a stop mountaintop removal sign, all around us were dozens of people from West Virginia.  As the march turned onto 6th Ave we spotted a group of people from Kentucky holding a sign about mountaintop removal in their state. Elise yelled over to the group and said ya’ll from Kentucky?  They nodded and yelled back yes. Elise when said “Well we’re all from West Virginia.” The look on their faces was of surprise followed by recognition and joy. There was an unspoken connection. As one woman from Kentucky started to cry I couldn’t help but do the same.

Ultimately, what made the People’s Climate March so special was that it connected communities.  (The first two images below reference the last paragraph)

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Elise Keaton Liegel Executive Director of Keeper of the Mountains Foundation

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Paula Swearengin, an activist from southern West Virginia and volunteer with the Huntington-based Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition.

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Frack Waste Injection Well Site – Concerned Residents in the Fayette Plateau

Below are images from a short film about an injection well site that is owned and operated by Danny Webb Construction, located in Lochgelly, WV.  The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) gave Danny Webb a class II injection well permit in 2002. The permit allows for the dumping of waste from oil and natural gas industries. The creek located next to the site is the headwaters of Wolf Creek which leads directly into the New River, upstream from the current water intake for the surround areas.

The film exposed years of violations at the site and the West Virginia DEP’s failure to enforce regulations that would protect public health. In 2007, resident Brad Keenan presented evidence to the West Virginia DEP that toxic and radioactive waste was polluting Wolf Creek. The footage in the film was captured seven years later and features residents Brad Keenan, Mary Rahall, former employee Peter Halverson, and restaurant owner Wendy Bays.

The film is part of a series about resource extraction throughout West Virginia called “In the Hills and Hollows”  and is sponsored by the Civil Society Institute and the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition.

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Mountaintop Removal and Slurry Impoundments – From the ground and in the air

I have been working on stories about resource extraction in West Virginia since November.  One of my first interviews in the Coal River Valley was with Junior Walk. During the interview he called West Virginia, “A resource colony that powers the rest of the country.”  As I spent more time in the region and saw the impacts of the coal industry on communities and environment, I found that Junior’s words resonated more clearly.

Below are a set of images captured on the ground and in the air of Mountaintop Removal in Southern West Virginia and of the Brushy Fork Impoundment, (the captions below explain more details about specific sites.) 

Mountaintop removal mining (MTR) is a form of surface mining that involves the mining of the summit ridge of a mountain. During the beginning stages of mountaintop removal, all topsoil and vegetation is removed. Trees are often not used commercially, but are burned and dumped into valley fills. The first six images show the process of deforestation and piles of trees being burned in the landscape.

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The image above is of a valley fill in Boone County, West Virginia. During the process of MTR excess rock and soil is disposed into nearby valleys.  It was estimated by the EPA  that valley fills are responsible for burying and polluting thousands of  miles of vital Appalachian headwater streams.

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The image above is of the Brushy Fork Slurry Impoundment which is only a few miles from the towns of Whitesville and Sylvester.  Coal slurry is the substance left over after the process of “cleaning coal.” Before coal is burned in a power plant it is taken to a coal preparation plant where it is washed with chemicals prior to shipping the coal to market. In January, MCHM, a chemical that is used in the process of cleaning coal, spilled into the Elk River in Charleston, polluting the drinking water of over 300,000 people.

In Shirley L. Stewart Burns book “Bringing Down the Mountains” she references various sources that state the impoundment,”owned by Massey Energy, is 900 feet high and will hold 8.168 billion gallons of slurry once it is completed.”  The impoundment currently holds  7.8 billon gallons of toxic sludge and is the largest earthen dam in the United States.  A quick look at google map shows that there  are hundreds of slurry impoundments throughout the state of West Virginia.

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The image above shows a small island of land surrounded by mountaintop removal mining. Hidden under the trees on this patch of land is the Jarrell Family Cemetery where generations of families from Appalachia are buried.  The mining site surrounding the cemetery is called the Twilight Surface Mine. It was once owned by Massey Energy and is now owned by Alpha Natural Resources

Currently, I am working on a series of short films about how the coal and natural gas industries are affecting communities and the environment throughout the state. Ultimately the goal of these films is to help the public understand the true cost of coal and our dependence on fossil fuels. Check back to see updates about the project and the films.

A special thanks to South Wings for helping me get access to photograph the above images.

 

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Nibi Water Walk

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The beginning of May I joined the Nibi “Water” Walk along the Ohio River.  The walk is lead by Sharon Day “Singing Wolf.”  Sharon is an Ojibwe native from Northern Minnesota.  The walk began in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and continues 981 miles to Cairo, Illinois where the Ohio River empties into the Mississippi. The entire journey is a ceremony to heal and honor the water. I meet the group just a few miles north of Point Pleasant, West Virginia.  While walking one person carries a vessel of water from the headwaters of the Ohio and an eagle feather.

Sharon Day has lead several long distance water walks throughout the USA. After walking the Mississippi in 2013 she learned a lot about the Ohio River and decided to organize a walk along the river for the following year.  The Ohio river is the largest tributary of the Mississippi and the most polluted river in the United States, making it a large contributor to the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico.

“As Ojibwe women we are responsible to care for the water, and to pray for it.  All the water we have on this earth is all we will ever have and only a small amount of it is useable for human consumption.  Our values need to shift so we can begin to understand that water is sacred.”

Here is a short film that I produced about the walk.  https://vimeo.com/97288672

To learn more about the Nibi Walks visit  www.nibiwalk.com

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Carnival Jacmel Haiti

This year I made a pretty last minute decision to go to carnival in Jacmel.  I fell in love with the coastal city when visiting in 2010. Jacmel is known as the art capital of Haiti and is one reason I was drawn to the city and continue to be completely inspired by the place.

People in Jacmel have always told me how incredible carnival is.  I was told about the music, costumes and the paper mache masks that flood the streets but the extent of what is produced and exhibited at carnival is really quite unimaginable.

I think my friend Aaron Funk, an American now resident of Jacmel, describes the Jacmel carnival experience best, “Insane-yes. Unforgettable-yes. Beautiful-yes. A little dangerous-yes again. Life changing – guaranteed.”  I would definitely recommend visiting this beautiful caribbean city and taking an extending trip in February for carnival to explore what can only be experienced in Jacmel.  For a short preview of the event check out the images posted below…

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Elk River Chemical Spill

Here is a new multimedia piece about how the Elk River chemical spill is affecting LaCrisha Rose and her family in Cabin Creek, WV. Please watch and share.

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Kenscoff to Peredo – Haiti

I started the year off in Haiti doing a hike from Kenscoff to Peredo with my Charlie.  I have always wanted to do the hike and heard a lot about it while living in Haiti in the past.  The scenery was incredible beautiful.  Here are a few images taken while making the trek.

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Portrait Series Shepherdstown, WV

I am working on a series of portraits of people in Shepherdstown, WV. Here are a few of the most recent portraits I have captured.

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Garth Emmery Janssen from Lost Dog Coffee
 

Giovanni Masini-Larsen

Giovanni Masini-Larsen
 

Steve

Steve Dancing Hammers Odonnell
 

Neal Delano Martineau

Neal Delano Martineau
 

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Portraits with Steve Dancing Hammers” O’Donnell

Here are a selection of images from a shoot with Steve “Dancing Hammers” O’Donnell.  These were taken as part of a project I am working on of portraits of individuals from Shepherdstown, WV. I will be updating and posting one image from each shoot here http://keelykernan.com/portrait-series-shepherdstown-wv/

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