At the Water Is Life music festival on Saturday, Sept. 15, the event's energy didn’t just come from the musicians’ and speaker’s anti-hydofracking messages; it also came from the feeling of community that the event generated.
“The real power in the day was coming together as a community,” said Lindsay Speer of Neighbors of the Onondaga Nation, the group that worked with the Onondaga Nation to organize the event. “A lot of people who have been working on fracking have been inspired by the Onondaga Nation and its environmental task force.”
Hydraulic fracturing, nicknamed “hydrofracking” or simply “fracking,” describes the process of drilling horizontally to release natural gas trapped in the ground. Proponents say fracking will bring jobs and revenue to the state; opponents worry that it may contaminate groundwater.
The event’s theme, “Water Is Life,” particularly hit home with the people of Onondaga Nation, who have long lobbied for the Onondaga Lake cleanup.
“Hydrofracking is such a major threat at the moment; we spent so much effort trying to get the lake cleaned up that the idea of polluting the water again is just completely incomprehensible,” said Speer.
Any movement needs to have moments of celebration, Speer said, and it was this belief that sparked the idea of a hybrid music festival and anti-fracking rally. The Onondaga Nation once hosted a musical festival series about 10 years ago, and Speer said she and the other organizers enjoyed reviving the tradition.
“Being able to bring back this effort and share what’s been going on and come together in a good space and enjoy each other’s company was a really powerful thing,” she said.
At its peak, the festival had around 200 people listening to the music and another 100 visiting the vendor’s booths near the stage, Speer said. By the end of the day, Speer estimated that well over 500 people attended the event.
From 11 a.m. to late in the evening, speakers, performers and musicians took the stage, which had been erected on the Onondaga Nation’s athletic field, to speak and sing about their concerns for the environment and voice their support of anti-fracking initiatives.
In between music sets, speakers took the mic to rally support for local and statewide anti-fracking initiatives. Speakers included Sarah Eckel of the local Westcott office of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, Nadia Steinzor of Earthworks, Michael Gorr of Shaleshock CNY, award-winning ecologist and poet Sandra Steingraber, and Oren Lyons, the faithkeeper of the Onondaga Nation’s Turtle Clan.
The emphasis on community was a trend that tied many of the performances together. During a set by D.R.E.A.M. Freedom Revival, a Syracuse-based performance group, one of the performers came down into the audience to ask for input.
Christian Bucknell, 22, who works in the Westcott office of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, volunteered his thoughts: “Everyone knows that you can’t create or destroy energy; you group it all together and amplify it. We’re going to take our amplified energy that’s going to be grouped here tonight, and then take it home with us this weekend and bring it to people who couldn’t be here,” he said. “We’ll take our amplified energy tonight and spread it to others that could not be here tonight, could not afford to be here, that don’t have the mindset to be here.”
While onstage to play guitar and sing, Mike Doxtater, a former Cornell and McGill University professor from Tyendinaga Mohawk territory in Ontario, stressed the importance of unity between native and non-native peoples. Citing land ownership agreements dating to before the United States' formation, Doxtater explained that this land really belongs to the native people.
“In the long run, when it comes down to when you’re talking about native rights and the rights over land, it is up to the non-native people who live in this country to say, ‘We have to ask the native people first, and if they say no, then it’s no.’”
Doxtater performed a song he had written that quoted the first words of the land treaties: “As long as the sun still rises, as long as the rivers flow.” This phrase implicitly refers to the remainder of the statement featured in such land treaties, which continues, “so shall these treaties last forever for our children and our future generations,” Doxtater explained.
To fight fracking and other environmental issues, Doxtater said, non-natives and natives can band together and work to honor the old treaties.
“I see this as an underwater volcano of all these issues to do with native rights, and it has to do with the idea, are you recognizing that NY State is still under Iroquois law? And what does that mean to Washington and to those guys?” he said. “Ask us, and we’ll say, ‘No, don’t go digging holes in Mother Earth. Don’t go dumping junk all over the place. Didn’t like it then, don’t like it now.’”
Green Sprouts is an environmental blog focused on Syracuse University and the surrounding community. The blog shares initiatives and events around campus that are working towards making SU more sustainable.