Last Friday while many were recuperating from a 4th of July holiday, I entered a boardroom in Tulsa to meet with people who spoke Arabic from a country our country spent billions tearing up in a war we will always wonder if it should have happened. The six officials I faced were in charge of water in Iraq, and I spoke to them as a single woman who speaks for water, as the Tar Creekkeeper.
How quickly time passed with the questions they asked, as well as the answers they gave to my questions. Water is precious, anywhere, but in a desert country, what a responsibility to protect the resource all require for life. Industrial processes, waste water discharges pollute their water which is scarce and being depleted. Since becoming the Tar Creekkeeper, the creek has experienced an intentional oil spill, a black water fish kill and recently flooded neighboring properties with her metal-loaded water.
LEAD Agency is a member of the Waterkeeper Alliance with 2 programs, first our Grand Riverkeeper with Earl Hatley and more recently the addition of the Tar Creekkeeper position, which I am humbled to claim. But more importantly for the water officials that day learned Iraq has their own Waterkeeper! The translator announced it and they wanted his name, and I simply said, "Google Iraq Waterkeeper" and moments later, they knew all about him. And a bit more about how state and national environmental agencies need Waterkeepers to inform them where pollution is occurring so it can be dealt with quickly.
My time was over with them, but not before we stood together proudly united as Water Protectors, my brother, Clark Frayser and I were captured in the photograph. After teaching Indian Art at Alexander Elementary in Commerce, OK, Clark taught art another twenty years at Eisenhower Elementary in Tulsa. And since retiring spends time volunteering with Tulsa Global Alliance as they host international visitors throughout the year. This meeting was hosted by that organization.
It has taken me awhile to settle in as the Tar Creekkeeper, since though pushy, taking the center stage has been awkward, not being a scientist or a lawyer, as many Waterkeepers are. The organization is the fastest growing grassroots environmental movement in the world dedicated to swimmable, fishable watersheds and those are certainly our goals here.
Nelson Mandela spoke in his Inaugural Speech, "as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously Give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, Our presence automatically liberates others." To be a movement for a Clean Tar Creek, it will take many others being liberated into action.
So it was fitting that yesterday, a man from St. Paul, Minnesota who had previously lived in Oklahoma where Mike Synar had been his US Representative called our office. Brian was his name, and he knows more about Mike Synar than anyone I ever knew.
Though it was Governor Nigh's Tar Creek Task Force that gave that little creek importance on a national stage, results of the findings were presented to the public at a meeting held in Tulsa at the Vo-Tech that I attended with my son, Dana, who had just learned to write in cursive and took notes during the whole event. Two people I remembered from the meeting, were Mike Synar our district's US Representative and Dr. John Neuberger with his findings on the health impacts in Ottawa County. Perhaps it was Synar's influence, Tar Creek made it as a Superfund Site in 1983 where it remains today.
All of us put Tar Creek to bed in our minds until all those Indian children were found to be lead poisoned and children are why money is still being spent here to lower lead exposures. Students at Miami High School took on Tar Creek and we thought the work ought to be dedicated to Synar. Ironically, I had just found my son's notes with maps and graphs and with that in hand did what we did back in those days before Google, and dialed information and an operator helped me. I got Mike's phone number, called and when he answered, mustered the courage to ask his permission to let our Tar Creek Project be dedicated to him... and he agreed!
He died of a brain tumor at age 45 only a month later on January 9, 1996. But just months earlier he had received one of the Profiles in Courage Awards given "to individuals who, by acting in accord with their conscience, risked their careers or lives by pursuing a larger vision of the national, state or local interest in opposition to popular opinion or pressure from constituents or other local interests," and he had done that throughout his career of public service. Those Cherokee Volunteers decided they would give out Environmental Excellence Awards in his honor to people who exemplify the spirit and drive Mike Synar embodied and LEAD has continued since.
And Brian the Synar "groupie" had found us by viewing a YouTube of one of our awards being presented. There ought to be a book about Mike Synar and that young man may be up to it, but he needs to consult with my son Dana Jim, working together knowing what they know, Mike could be pleased with the results.
But there ought to be a book on all the Mike Synar Environmental Excellence Awardees, those who showed courage, risked their lives and pursued a larger vision. But it will have to be in volumes because there are always more to honor, as the work continues and will for the coming decades as we pull together and muster this place better.
LEAD's Garden Party is Tuesday July 16 with Tulsa violinist Linda Adkins and Recycle Tar Creek Bike Ride and Rally on Saturday July 20. Call 918 542 9399 for details.
Respectfully Submitted ~ Rebecca Jim