As I walked up to the Oregon State Capitol building on a recent Wednesday morning, I was stunned and honored to discover that the head of a sovereign Indigenous nation had showed up to our Day of Solidarity with Anna Mae Leonard, a tribal member who was fasting to demand that Governor Kate Brown nix an ill-conceived water deal with the Nestlé Corporation. I expected a solid showing of tribal members, Hood River County residents and concerned Oregonians to support Anna Mae as she undertook her grueling five-day hunger strike on the steps of the capitol. Her sacrifice shined a light on the state’s arrogance as it pushes ahead with a water exchange process for Nestlé, despite opposition from the Columbia River Fishing Tribes and County voters who banned commercial water bottling in a landslide vote in May.
What I did not anticipate was that JoDe Goudy, chairman of the Yakama Nation Tribal Council, would travel to Salem all the way from the Standing Rock Sioux Dakota Pipeline protest to join us at the capitol. What’s more, Goudy made it clear that the Yakama Nation is prepared to take legal action if the state approves a water exchange in the Columbia River Gorge for Nestlé’s benefit.
Goudy did not mince words as he led the way to the Governor’s office to ask her to meet with Anna Mae Leonard, with the media in tow. We encountered the Governor making a statement in her ceremonial office and Goudy approached her staff asking for her to take a moment to meet with him before she rushed off to her next event. Unfortunately, Governor Brown slipped out a back door without speaking to either Goudy or Leonard.
This evasion is disappointing but not surprising from an industry-friendly Governor who won’t use a 69 percent vote for a ban on commercial water bottling in Hood River County as an opportunity to stop Nestlé’s water deal. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife is also to blame for continuing to push ahead with the deal so that Nestlé will provide infrastructure for its small hatchery in the Columbia River Gorge.
Anna Mae Leonard finished her five-day fast without a visit from Governor Brown. She spoke with legislators as they passed by and answered their questions about the water deal. Like most Oregonians, they thought that the Nestlé bottling proposal was dead because Hood River County passed the ballot measure. As Anna Mae explained that the state was still moving forward with its plans, many legislators were confounded.
I left the capitol that day feeling bolstered by our strength and by the determination of Chairman Goudy and other leaders to see this fight through to the end. Nestlé is losing, and we are being forced, by Governor Brown’s inaction, to tackle this campaign on every conceivable front. By the time our work is done there will be NO question about whether or not Nestlé is welcome in our state or whether Oregon’s water is available for Nestlé’s profit.
The Northwest is on the front line in a battle to stop water profiteers like Nestlé from its insatiable drive for increasingly scarce water resources. The Columbia River Fishing Tribes and county residents are not going to walk away from their hard-won victory at the polls, which should have resolved this issue once and for all. From the Dakota Pipeline to the Columbia River Gorge, we draw the line. Water is life, and we will fight to protect it.