Flint residents have borne the brunt of a deliberate and inhumane form of environmental racism known as the Flint Water Crisis, in which government officials supplied water to residents from a water supply poisoned with extremely high levels of lead. Many Michigan citizens, including Native people, have done their best to help out. From bringing water bottles to making protest songs, Native Americans have been on the forefront in helping their Black American cousins in Flint. For example, some of my Michigan Native cousins, the Little Traverse Band of Ottawa Indians, gave $10,000 U.S. dollars to support the residents of Flint. Native people have also stood in solidarity with Flint residents through art. Detroit Anishinaabe Hip Hop artists Soufy created the track, “Pay 2 Be Poisoned,” featuring Zebra Octobra and Lisa Brunk (produced by Native Keyz). It is a song that examines the Flint Water Crisis, and how this issue affects both Black Americans and Native people. It’s straight fire.
More recently, Hip Hop artist Sacramanteo Knoxx, an Anishinaabe/Chicanx artist from Southwest Detroit, has helped put together another protest song about the water crisis going on in Flint. The song is titled, Nakweshkodaadiiidaa Ekobiiyag, which means, in Anishinaabemowin, let’s meet by the water. The difference between this track and Pay 2 Be Poisoned, which is dope, is that Knoxx’s track is a call for Native and non-Native people to attend an Indigenous water ceremony, which will be held April 16 at the Flint River.
Detroit activist Monica Lewis-Patrick and co-founder of the We the People of Detroit organization, begins the track, criticizing Veolia, a company who’s alleged mission is to “resource the world, helping our customers address their environmental and sustainability challenges in energy, water and waste.”
“Guess who is privatizing the internal operations of DWSD (Detroit Water and Sewage Department” asks Lewis? “Veolia.” She continues, “Guess what also Veolia has done?” They “advised that Flint could drink poison water?”
Throughout this poetic political critique, you can hear the constant sounds of a slowly shaking rattle in the background. Then, Christy’s Bieber, an Anishinaabe singer who works with the Dream Keepers Native American Youth Group in Detroit, sings, “let’s meet up by the water/ Nakweshkodaadiiidaa Ekobiiyag.”
The collaborative track includes spoken word, the sounds of drums and rattles—sacred sounds to Indigenous people—poetry, and rapping. It is a protest song, preparing people for a ceremony to bring healing to the residents of Flint, suffering under the yoke of Governor Rick Snyder’s decision to deliberately poison its citizens with water from the Flint River. I still hope he is not only brought to prosecution, but also sent to jail.
Check out a video on the making of the song here:
Detroit Hip Hop artists Knoxx and Zaire Rodgers, aka Kaz Clever (Zaire is an MC who Knoxx mentors), are the rappers on the track. Knoxx begins the first rap verse with “Bruce Lee told me how to be like the water.” If you aren’t sure of that reference, Knoxx is paying homage to legendary martial artist and movie star Bruce Lee, also founder of Jeet Kun Do (way of the intercepting fist), a martial arts system designed for anyone. Lee used water to describe his own philosophy about fighting. Believing that in combat anything can happen, therefore one must adapt like water. “Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup; you put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow or it can crash. Be water my friend.”
Knoxx’s verse is a call for people to continue fighting, through various forms, against environmental racism. One way in which he and others are doing this is to bring Indigenous and non-Indigenous people to Flint to hold a ceremony, thanking the Creator for the gift of water.
Zaire’s line: “I ain’t from flint but I’m sick too/cause my peers ain’t appearing in your mental” is important. The track and this ceremony are important. It represents collaboration between Black and Indigenous peoples, between Detroit and Flint. It illustrates that Native people are still alive, and that the fight for clean water—a global issue represented here at the local level—will be led by the original inhabitants of Turtle Island: Indigenous people.
For Native people, water is sacred. I won’t get into the ways it is holy; no need to feed into settler tropes of how close Indigenous people are to nature. But as Christy, an Anishinaabe singer also from Detroit states, “when we think about water, women are the carriers of water, and babies are born through water.”
People of all faiths and religious beliefs, Native and non-Native people — everyone concerned with having clean water — is invited to join in solidarity in an Indigenous ceremonial water blessing and meeting for Flint, Michigan.
The hook of the song is important. It’s an Indigenous feminist take on how to bring healing to the water, to pray for what the Creator has given to us all, something that Native women have always done. Without water, we don’t survive.
We need all forms of protest to bring justice to the residents of Flint, to shed light on the ways corporations and governments continue to dirty our water. Activism takes many forms, and this is one way in which people can protest.
If you are at all concerned about the poisoning of Flint citizens, if you care about water rights, if you believe that every person deserves a basic right to access clean water, please come out and support this Saturday, April 16, 2016, at 11 a.m. Eastern Time. Various Native elders will lead a water ceremony for the residents of Flint in order to bless the water. They will meet at the University of Michigan-Flint, right outside of the William S. White Building (509 Harrison Street, Flint, 48502).All are welcome.
Native elders Patricia Shawanoo, Mona Stonefish, and Josephine Mandamin, will lead the opening and closing ceremonies. The organizers ask only that you do not take photos. After the ceremony, a feast will follow (as the flyer says, please bring pre-packaged food only).
So, “let’s meet up by the water/ Nakweshkodaadiiidaa Ekobiiyag” and keep building on Black and Indigenous solidarity.
Kyle T. Mays is a Black/Saginaw Anishinaabe historian of urban history, Afro-Indigenous studies, and Indigenous studies. He is currently a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of History at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. You can follow him on Twitter @mays_kyle.