It was a beautiful day, and I had a wonderful lunch meeting with Deborah Kushner, a Third Actor who a few years ago, gathered the support of other elders to help deposit an old car filled with concrete into the pathway of the Mountain Valley Pipeline (pictured below).

We talked a lot about Virginia’s Third Actors and their work fighting the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP). She had been working on this issue for some time and was very fond of the scrappy people she had met in southwest Virginia––a region threatened by the impending pipeline’s passage, unless stopped. Construction of the pipeline has been expedited by provisions in the debt ceiling bill when it was passed in June of this year.

Washington DC protest Manchin's Dirty Deal (September 2022).

I understand that producing more oil is a bad idea. I know that region in Virginia is considered the most impoverished and disadvantaged in the state. So, I could sympathize with these people and their inability to stop this invasion onto their lands. Yet, I wasn’t especially distressed since I didn’t know them. It’s not a problem for my home.

Then I learned that women leaders from the Ojibwe and Ottawa tribes, among many others, had recently submitted an emergency request to President Biden. They asked him to decommission the Enbridge Line 5 oil pipeline which traverses Ojibwe territory. The Line 5 pipeline is 70 years old — 20 years past its engineered lifespan — and transports 22 million gallons of crude oil each day through Wisconsin, Michigan, and under the Straits of Mackinac.

The Ojibwe territory riverbanks are eroding at an ever-faster pace due to recent floods. The next rainfall event could cause a vertical break, wherein oil would gush from both sides of the outdated pipeline. An oil spill in the Great Lakes region would poison sacred wild rice beds, threaten Indigenous communities, and harm all people in the region who depend on the local fisheries for food and work. The Great Lakes contain one-fifth of the world’s freshwater and provides drinking water for 40 million people in North America.

Now — now the idea of climate justice was very personal to me.


Elders hold up signs of deceased friends to protest the MVP.

Among other ethnicities, I am Native American. My people, the Potawatomi, were originally one people with the Ojibwe and Ottawa.  As the story was passed down to me, it was in our Council of Three Fires, many centuries ago, that we committed to each other that we each would remain faithful to the others in supporting our way of life. That we would come to help the other tribes should it ever be needed. That pledge we made so long ago still burns in our hearts today. Now this issue was personal to me.

These lands around the Great Lakes were our lands too. Most of the Potawatomi were forcibly removed decades ago but Potawatomi officials have signed the letter asking for Biden’s protection of our ancestral lands.

This is also about racial justice. The pipeline traverses Ojibwe territory against their will. All tribes lost much of their power and resources when they signed treaties with the federal government. However, in exchange, we were all guaranteed sovereignty over the smaller territories our tribes now occupy. And that promise has not been kept.

Activists hold up signs/umbrellas that read "KABOOM!" in DC.

The Bad River Band (one of six Ojibwe bands), has been trying to get Enbridge to cease operating the pipelines crossing their land. In September 2022, a federal court found Enbridge had been trespassing on Bad River Band of Lake Superior lands since 2013, and profiting from Line 5 at the Tribe’s expense. Nothing more happened.
Finally on June 16th, 2023, courts ruled that Enbridge had to remove the portion of the pipeline that crosses through tribal territory within three years.

But remember, this pipeline has already been there illegally for 10 years! It is immoral that these people must fight for justice in this issue  — to fight for control over their home lands.

This fight is about racial justice and climate justice, the right for all peoples to have self-determination and to live in a healthy environment. The Enbridge Line 5 pipeline has already spilled over 30 times, dumping more than a million gallons of oil. Yet they were allowed to continue operating on land in which they were trespassing.

Similarly, “Numerous studies have found that the Mountain Valley Pipeline would pose serious risks to endangered species and surrounding ecosystems. The 303-mile long pipeline and accompanying Southgate extension would cut across almost 1,146 streams, creeks, rivers, and wetlands. The MVP would transport over 2 billion cubic feet of fracked gas each day, crossing over steep mountain slopes that are susceptible to landslides and an increased risk of pipeline explosions.” (Evergreen Action) 

A court recently put some of the MVP construction on hold while they consider the environmental impacts and the fact that the exterior coating of the pipeline has been exposed to the elements far longer than is considered safe. The potential for explosions from weakened areas has been enhanced by the exposure. 

A gas pipeline further north in Virginia exploded into a long-lasting ball of fire a few weeks ago. In the Corrective Action Order, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) says the following: “The cause of the failure is currently unknown, but based on initial observations of the failed pipe, environmental cracking is the suspected cause of the Incident.” (Northern Virginia Daily)

News Headline of a gas line exploding in Strasburg, Virginia. 

Despite this and other known issues with pipelines, opponents of the Mountain Valley Pipeline still have to fight their way through the courts and they may not ultimately win.

It can be hard for us to be equally concerned about issues to which we don’t have a personal connection. Until we’ve walked a mile in another’s moccasins, we don’t really understand. Yet it’s good to remember––we’re all downstream or downwind from communities that are struggling to survive injustice––environmental or racial. In the future, we could be too.

Communities fighting the Mountain Valley Pipeline just entered their 10th year of resistance and they need your energy and support to stop MVP once and for all.

So, after Biden and Congress greenlit the Mountain Valley Pipeline, the company has been devouring Appalachian mountains, streams, and homes with its rabid construction. On July 25, a gas pipe exploded in the nearby Shenandoah Valley, causing community members increased worry for what could happen if the 42-inch diameter, corroding MVP pipes are implemented on the steep Appalachian slopes.

Act Now

Pam Murphy / Bemashneankwat (She Flies in the Clouds)

For over 30 years, Pam has been in leadership positions with or in nonprofits. For 20 of those years, she started and managed health agencies to bring charity health services to low-income families including medical, dental, pharmaceutical, psychiatric and counseling services. Previously she used her public relations background to serve multiple clients in a marketing firm and in her employment as a director at a YMCA in Los Angeles. Pam loves animals and is keen to help preserve wildlife everywhere, and to protect the beauty surrounding her home base in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. Currently, Pam is the Development Manager at Third Act.