This week I got to show the wounds, the color of blood oozing out of the ground on each side of the road, streaming along the ditches, showing the colors we have learned to expect, but yet hope not to see.
Each time I have taken people to see those waters of our once beloved creek and step forward to look over the bridge, I long for pretty water to be flowing downstream away from us.
I was a late comer. She was tainted for fifteen years, she was a ruined teenager before I came to see her that way. I was a crosser, crossing over the bridges she ran beneath year after year, never pausing like I do now, to gaze beneath, nor stop to stand beside, to stoop to find a worry stone along the banks, or see the life that no longer lived in or along the edge as she passed/flowed along so casually most days.
Having grown up in west Texas in a town named for a spring, where water was precious, and later living in the Black Hills and the Rocky Mountains with streams so clean you could lean over and scoop a drink out of the same water the tastiest trout you ever steamed in the ashes of a fire were caught. Knowing and experiencing the rare joy fresh running water could bring, it is beyond me to understand how I blew the chance to know Tar Creek before her life was changed for what must feel like forever to her.
I came to work in Miami as the Indian Counselor in 1978, a year and a few months before the abandoned mine workings in the Picher Field which had been dug into the Boone Aquifer refilled with water because the pumps allowing the work had ceased to work. I had those months and a few more to go down for myself as a tourist in the mine people still talk about that was so close to Route 66. Missed opportunities. We all experience them, or actually we don't experience them at all, do we?
I read the newspapers when Tar Creek was a front page item, like a brutal murder makes the headlines for days on end. And big news, like the Kansas City Star, Los Angeles Times and the Dallas Morning Sun. Tar Creek was slain and people with cameras and the best writers were here watching what looked like the life's blood flowing right out of her.
People cared and we knew what was wrong would be righted because we had a brand new agency, the Environmental Protection Agency and her new program the Superfund was going to fix our problems and make quick work of it, too. We believed until we stopped believing and stopped making the front pages and EPA slipped out and would never have come back, no matter how red and orange our Tar Creek wore in public, but our kids, maybe yours, for sure the kids on your block, no matter what town you lived in: Miami and north/ our kids were being lead poisoned and hey, that meant EPA had to get their butt back in here and start doing something about it.
There are no IQ transplants. Lead can reduce our abilities and harm every organ in our bodies. But lead poisoning is totally preventable. No vaccines are needed. We are the method that protects children, we do that by eliminating the source, removing lead from homes, from our environment, our front yards and backyards.
I got off track. Yesterday I gave my last Toxic Tour. We begin by crossing one of the many bridges obscuring our shame to the public, turned north out of Miami and quickly found chat piles, sinkholes, remnants of our abandoned towns but the last stop is the bleed. The "eternal flow of evil" that began the year after I arrived gushes out of the aquifer and has spilled out hour after hour for over 42 years.
With me on this viewing was Thomas Linzey, an attorney with the Center for Democratic and Environmental Rights who was the inspiration for the Proposed Miami Clean Water Protection Ordinance to provide rights of our residents to clean water and a healthy Tar Creek and for our creek to have her own rights to be protected. It was Thomas' first visit and the water he saw he had seen before at other injured sites around the country and around the world and is the reason for his years long work for water justice. He came to offer his services to our tribal leaders to assist them as he has many other tribes in adopting the Rights Nature deserves.
Mr. Linzey then ended with a statement jarring us with his clarity "the Right to clean water is not yet provided to us in our Bill of Rights nor even in the Clean Water Act."
He left the tribes the spark that might ignite Rights to Nature legislation, perhaps a movement could begin within these elected leaders to protect what we have while restoring what has been lost. Why not with a Bill of Rights for Nature?
Respectfully Submitted ~ Rebecca Jim