EMLENTON – As many canoeists, kayakers and rafters gathered Saturday morning at the boat launch in Emlenton for a fun day on the Allegheny River, another smaller group converged just upstream as part of a summer-long journey down the river to raise awareness for the need to protect waterways.
The group of about nine people taking part in the Paddle For Peace And Prayer To Protect Our Waters journeyed the 20 miles on the Allegheny River from Emlenton to East Brady on Saturday; however, the trip was part of a longer, 13-stage, 290-mile journey from the river’s headwaters in Port Allegany to Pittsburgh.
“This water is the lifeblood of all creation,” said Degawëno:da’s, a member of the Defend Ohi:yo’ group and the Seneca Nation in New York. He explained that the group began earlier this summer to paddle the length of the Allegheny River (Ohi:yo’) “to draw attention to the need to protect our waters from gas drilling, pipelines and other activities that threaten public health and the environment.”
Degawëno:da’s, which translates from the Seneca language to He Who Thunders in English, is from Cold Spring, N.Y., near Salamanca, and a member of the Wolf Clan of the Seneca Nation. He was joined on the paddle Saturday by other members of the Seneca Nation, as well as residents from Coudersport, Randolph, N.Y. and other communities who are opposed to the planned Natural Fuel Gas Northern Access Pipeline and the FM100 Project, which will extend an existing pipeline network in the area through northwestern Pennsylvania and transport Marcellus gas to the Williams’ Transco Pipeline that transports gas through multiple states, including Pennsylvania and New York.
The FM100 proposed route passes through Salamanca, N.Y. as well as Cameron, Clearfield, Clinton, Elk, McKean and Potter counties in Pennsylvania.
On Saturday, Degawëno:da’s said that the group’s effort started under a full moon on May 18 with a ceremony at the small headwaters of the Allegheny River near Coudersport, an area where some of the activists involved have fought the dumping of water used in the natural gas hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” process. He said that the group supports the rights of nature, which give elements of the natural world the same rights as human beings.
“From my perspective, it was established a millennia ago,” Degawëno:da’s said, noting that the Seneca’s Thanksgiving address acknowledges all aspects of nature as equal.
The trip along the river, one stage after another, started in Port Allegany, with stops in Turtlepoint, Olean, Salamanca, the Allegheny National Forest, Irvine, Tionesta, Franklin and Kennerdale before Saturday’s ninth stage from Emlenton to East Brady. Future stages are planned from East Brady to Kittanning, then on to Tarentum and Pittsburgh.
Degawëno:da’s said his group is not forcing its message on anyone, but simply talks about it with people they meet along the way.
“We’re doing what we can,” he said.
Barry Miller, a mechanical engineer from Hinsdale, N.Y., was one of the people accompanying Degawëno:da’s on the journey. He said that Saturday’s trip followed a 330,000 raw sewage spill into the upper Allegheny River at Olean just days earlier.
“Dilution is not the solution,” he said, noting that the same applies to raw sewage as it does with radioactive Radium 226, which enters public waterways with the dumping of water used in fracking Marcellus Shale gas wells.
“They try to say it’s low level waste,” Miller said, explaining that it’s been shown that if even one alpha particle of radiation gets into the human body, it increases the cancer risk by 50 percent. “When it is inhaled or in the water, it’s as lethal as plutonium, uranium or any radioactive material.”
“We know that it’s getting into this river,” he continued, noting that the Radium 226 particles are not filtered out in the treatment process before the water is dumped into rivers and streams.
For updates on their journey, or more information, visit the “Paddle with Peace and Prayer for Water Protection” page or the “Defend Ohi:yo’” page on Facebook.