April 21, 2017

Water Is Life: 50 Young People Take the Message to Governor Dayton


On Wednesday, April 19, more than 50 young people met with Governor Mark Dayton as part of Water Action Day, to express their unique hopes and concerns about protecting our water resources here in Minnesota for our generation, and all those who follow.

The young folks in the room included babies and toddlers in strollers, a predominantly-Somali class of sixth graders studying water pollution, high-school representatives of the Indigenous Youth Ceremonial Mentoring Society, students organizers from a variety of college campuses, and some of the grade-school leaders of this Saturday’s Kids Climate March. Some of them had traveled for hours from Duluth or Bemidji to be there. 

Water Action Day was coordinated by a coalition of more than 40 organizations that helped turn out over 1,000 people to the Capitol on a variety of issues, from anti-mining to pollinator protection to stopping crude oil pipelines. The Youth Caucus that met with Governor Dayton brought an interest in an even greater number of issues - and a sobering reminder of the consequences that we know we will inherit if today’s decision makers don’t protect our water.

“The reason I care about water is that water is essential to life. If you pollute it, you’re polluting lives,” said one sixth grade student from Fridley, Minnesota. Many of the young children voiced their worry for their future children.

“The reason I’m here is I don’t want the land to be hurt in any way that futur generations don’t get to experience it [like I do],” said Alice, a fourth grade student and member of the Climate Kids Action group that’s helping put on the Kids Climate March.

Older students compared the different places they’d been able to live. One recent college graduate introduced herself saying, “I’m Kimberly, I’m 22, I just finished sixteenth grade, and after four years in Chicago, I no longer take for granted how important clean resources are for being comfortable in the place that you live.”

People vs. Pipelines

Many of the young people chose to speak to specific policy priorities of sources of pollution that are particularly close to home for them. The most powerful exchange was between a few of the native high school students who called on the Governor to more boldly oppose new oil pipelines in Minnesota.

“We started getting involved with the Dakota Access Pipeline, and what happened out at Standing Rock. I came here today to ask you if you can keep in mind the generations to come, and our children and grandchildren,” began Nolan Berglund, one of the students. “I’m really glad we’re having things like this where the youth can speak, and I would also like to remind everybody in this room whose land we’re standing on.”

“This is Dakota land, this is Ojibwe land, so when the pipelines go through it and they bust - because it’s not a matter of if a pipeline will break, it’s when, because all pipelines break - the land that it seeps into, and this entire country, is on native land,” continued Nina Berglund, Nolan’s sister. “This is our ancestors’ land, and we must protect it, we must respect it, and take it into consideration at all meetings, through the legislature, in different states, and across the country.”

Dayton responded by affirming his promise to veto legislation that would take authority away from the Public Utilities Commission, which is response for permitting oil pipelines in Minnesota. He also spoke to the need for tribal consultation, saying “The Commissioner of Commerce, in preparing this environmental impact statement [on Enbridge’s Line 3 pipeline], is consulting with each of the tribes that would possibly be affected depending on the route that is chosen. So this is going to be a very important matter for the next couple years.”

“We oppose all pipelines, we oppose anything that will threaten our earth and water, so we want to make that clear,” Nina reminded Dayton. “Know that we the people oppose these things, and hope that you stand with us!”

“It’s not about rerouting or making the pipeline better, it’s about not having a pipeline go through our land at all,” finished Rose Whipple, another member of the Indigenous Youth Ceremonial Mentoring Society.

Governor Dayton still hasn’t come out in opposition of Enbridge’s Line 3 pipeline “replacement,” which would abandon a crumbling pipeline in place under tribal and farm land, and allow Enbridge to build a larger pipeline through a new route that crosses the most pristine wild rice lakes on Earth as well as the Mississippi headwaters. Oil pipelines were a hot topic at Water Action Day, with Winona LaDuke as one of the most notable rally speakers, and trainings on recent policy rollbacks that would impact pipeline permitting during the morning.

The Gov Plays It Cool on Solar Energy


A less well-known controversy is some of the legislation that threatens rural solar energy cooperatives. Claudia, a recent graduate of Oxford College, called on the Governor to stand strong in his defense of Minnesota’s growing solar industry. “I feel that especially in this legislative session, there have been a lot of attacks on environmental policies and regulations, like our clean water standards. Earlier this session, I know you vetoed a bill that would remove some protections from rural solar customers, so can we count on your continued support to veto this language and stand with us?” 

To everyone’s surprise and delight, the Governor leaned across the crowd to fist-bump Claudia in what quickly became the highlight of the meeting - and a promising gesture for solar energy.

We’re Fighting for Futures Other Than Our Own

906 A few of the students informed Dayton they were also concerned about the impact our actions are having on the rest of the species we share the planet with. A mother with a toddler in her arms told the Governor, “This is Asa. She lives in St. Anthony, and she really loves bald eagles, so she hopes we can ban lead shot.”

Another sixth grade student chimed in with some science, reminding the Governor “One of the main kinds of pollution is nutrient pollution. It comes from fertilizers, which have nitrogen and phosphorous, and then it goes into the ground and the groundwater, and gets into rivers, and then algae grows, and parasites, and then the fish die.”

Dayton: Now is the Time for Bold Action

As the meeting concluded, I presented Governor Dayton with a letter from the Youth Caucus, signed with personal notes from nearly all the students, and specific policy asks. The letter read:

“Thank you for the leadership you have shown as a champion of clean water and climate stability. Your commitment to leaving a safe and prosperous Minnesota for our generation has been abundantly clear, and we are here to support you in continuing to take bold action. As young people, we are acutely aware that we will feel the lasting impacts of the decisions being made at the Capitol now. We ask that you stand by our generation, and all future Minnesotans, by refusing to compromise on our rights to clean water and healthy environments, by opposing any bills that weaken state and agency authority, lock us into dirty fossil fuels, or limit public input.”

At the end of the meeting, Dayton thanked the young people for voicing their concerns, saying “This is the land of sky blue waters, and all this clean water, and we can’t take it for granted! We’re going to have depend on all of you and all of us to stand up and speak out, and do something.”

The Youth Caucus was the only group that Governor Dayton met with during Water Action Day. But many of the young people were also meeting with their Senators and Representatives, testifying at committee hearings, and attending trainings throughout the day.

Young people are leading the way and holding decision makers like Dayton accountable to protecting our water from threats like oil pipelines and sulfide mining. Right after the Youth Caucus meeting with Dayton, everyone streamed over to the rotunda for the Water Action Day Rally. Enormous banners proclaiming “Mni wichoni” graced the banisters, and chants of “Water is Life” echoed through the Capitol halls. Tomorrow, many of those same students will be in the streets for the Kids Climate March, leading the March for Science. And next week, many of them will be spending 22 hours each way on buses in order to join with pipeline fighters and young climate justice activists from across the country for the People’s Climate March.

Together, our generation is showing up in the streets and in the halls of power, and bringing the urgency and truth our decision makers need to hear.


Take action! If you live in Minnesota, add your name here to tell Governor Dayton to say NO to the Line 3 tar sands pipeline!