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Battling for the Arctic: Lummi Canoe Leads Kayaktivists Against 'Death Star' Oil Rig

Lummi canoe leads kayaktivist flotilla against Shell oil rig that will dump waste directly into Chukchi Sea as it conducts Arctic drilling.
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In an ominous foreshadowing of possible things to come, the EPA granted Shell Oil permission to dump 13 separate streams of waste from the oil rig Polar Pioneer into the Chukchi Sea north of Alaska, reported Joel Connelly in a June 15 Seattle Post-Intelligencer blog. In addition to bilge water, streams of such things as water-based drilling fluids and drill cuttings, deck drainage, sanitary wastes, domestic wastes, blowout preventer fluid and boiler blowdown will be dumped into the pristine environment of the Arctic Sea starting next month when the massive oil rig begins drilling at four separate exploratory well sites.

Authorization to discharge these substances into the sea about 75 miles from the Alaska Native village of Wainwright was granted in a letter dated June 10 from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s office in Seattle. This was just five days before a Lummi canoe joined kayaktivists attempting to block the Polar Pioneer from its mission to invade the Arctic. The enormous semi-submersible drilling platform, which towers 170 feet above the water, attempted to slip out of Seattle unannounced on Monday June 15 after a month of being outfitted at Terminal 5.

The rig, dubbed the Death Star by protesters, was met by a blockade consisting of the Lummi Youth Canoe Family and more than 50 kayaktivists from organizations such as Greenpeace, the Backbone Campaign, Mosquito Fleet and Climate Solutions. A coalition of law enforcement agencies ranging from the Coast Guard to the Port of Seattle Police were on hand to enforce a 500-yard safety zone around the rig. The showdown began at 5 a.m.

"I stood in my canoe with a drum and sang an honor song to the Salish Sea and asking forgiveness," Lummi Canoe Skipper Justin Finkbonner recalled later. "I sang a warrior song to encourage the activists to work together and be brave."

As the Polar Pioneer left its moorings and approached the blockade, police boats nearly collided with the canoe, telling the crew they were too close and would be arrested for violating the protest agreement. Finkbonner countered, informing them that they were the ones at fault for protecting an illegal action by Shell that violated the 1855 Treaty of Point Elliott by invading waters where Natives had been granted the right to fish and gather natural resources.

"It seemed to work," he said.

Holding aloft a banner reading "Save the Arctic," the Lummi Youth Canoe Family paddled ahead of the kayaktivists, keeping in front of the rig where they would spin in a circle with a warrior's bravado.

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"We must have paddled for three hours on the water, maneuvering in front of the drilling platform and Foss tugboats to keep them from getting away," Finkbonner said.

They watched as behind them Coast Guard and police boats picked off the slow-moving kayaks one by one, pulling out the occupants and arresting them.

"There was nothing we could do to save them but to keep paddling," he said.

A total of 24 kayak warriors were eventually taken into custody. After about three miles, law enforcement boats succeeded in blocking the Lummi canoe, allowing the oil rig to speed up and outpace them. Eventually, the canoe fell silent as the rig and the tugboats retreated into the distance. Finkbonner stood and told his canoe family they'd done well and should keep an open mind and a strong heart.

"The world watched as we led the kayaks into action," he recalled later, "and all we can do now is prepare for the next vessel that will try to arrive in our territory."

As he finished his story of the Battle of Elliott Bay against the waste-spewing Death Star, Finkbonner became solemn.

"We must work together in order to save this planet for our future generations,” he said. “Our fight will continue. Osiam."