The winter solstice is the shortest day of the year and the official start of winter. It occurs when one of the Earth's poles is at its maximum tilt away from the sun.
For John Crawford, Eileen MacGairdener and other members of the Local Indigenous Network Collective, the solstice also serves as a reminder of the ebb and flow of Earth’s resources.
On Saturday, Crawford and MacGairdener organized a small walk through downtown Missoula as a “water honoring” to celebrate one of Earth’s most abundant resources they feel is easy to take for granted.
While the two waited for friends to meet at the XXXXs on North Higgins, they explained that LINC is an organization that works to initiate local action to protect Montana’s headwaters and promote sustainability.
Crawford said LINC started as a local response to the challenges camps of people faced who were protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline in Standing Rock, North Dakota. Protesters argued that a leak in the pipeline could contaminate the Standing Rock Sioux tribe’s water supply.
Crawford said protesters staying at the camps faced a lot of challenges such as unsanitary conditions and limited access to drinking water, in addition to legal challenges. LINC formed as a proactive measure if a water camp ever comes to Montana.
“The response was: ‘It’s eventually going to come to Montana one way or another. Why don’t we have a group that does the groundwork, paperwork, permits?’” Crawford said.
LINC quickly realized there are a lot of other, better-funded organizations with similar missions so they shifted their agenda slightly to focus more on promoting sustainability at a local level and honoring the resources at hand, such as water.
MacGairdener said Missoula is lucky to have clean water, unlike other communities around the globe.
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“We forget that because we just turn the water on and we can have it hot or cold or in between,” MacGairdener said. “We just want people to remember that that’s a sacred gift. We need to start treating it like that.”
LINC began holding a small water honoring for each solstice and equinox as an attempt to remind people the value of water and the importance of protecting clean air, lakes, forests, rivers and streams.
For the walk to the bridge over the Clark Fork River on Saturday, MacGairdener dressed in all blue, wearing a ribbon skirt she made and carrying a banner with similar ribbons.
The banner featured a symbol she created to represent the saying “Water is life,” which became the name of a movement at Standing Rock.
The symbol carries a deeper meaning for MacGairdener. “Standing Rock shifted my perspective on everything and my place in this community as a European American,” she said.
One of LINC’s main goals would still be to provide technical and logistic support to any water camp that might come to Montana, especially in the case of the possibility of the Keystone XL pipeline near the Fort Peck/Dry Prairie Regional Water System.
“It’s going to take a lot of work,” Crawford said. “Northeast Montana is extremely isolated and as it stands now, the route does not go through the reservation so we’d have to look at trying to interface with local landowners and county officials.”
For now, the group continues to focus on building local, community resilience through events such as “freecycles” and sustainable ways to grow food.
Errin Koehler and Kelly Byard, two of MacGairdener’s friends who occasionally come to LINC events, also came out to celebrate the winter solstice and water honoring.
The two said they are working on finding ways to steer away from the consumerist nature of the holiday season.
“We’re trying to be more local and community-oriented,” Koehler said. “I think that water is the foundation for healthy communities. We drink it, we need it to grow our food, we need it to keep ourselves clean. It’s so important and it’s all connected. If we don’t take care of it in one spot then it affects all of us in the community.”