Community, like love and water, knows no
boundary," Walt Bresette
by Sandy Lyon written in 1999
I've had a couple of odd things happen lately, that I thought you might be interested in hearing about.
Now I grew up in the woods of northern Wisconsin and am pretty used to the way things are with nature. In college
I went off to a university during a time when people smoked stuff and "dropped" chemicals to alter their
perspectives. Granted, but, some of the things that have been happening lately go way beyond that type of trip.
About twenty years ago I built my log cabin in those same woods of Northern Wisconsin. I built it by hand and made
it passive solar. I also added a greenhouse to the front of it. It is a joy to live in. In fact, I work out of
my home doing audio production and environmental work.. As a tool of that trade I have a computer and a studio.
I also have a tree frog that has taken up residence in my studio.
How odd, I thought, last November when I first noticed him sitting atop my sound board over my computer. I figured
the he ( and I say he, though I really don't have a clue if she is a he or visa versa) I figured that "he"
would be more comfortable in the greenhouse, where a couple of salamanders also call it home. So I put him in the
greenhouse. Back he came. And stayed. All winter he stayed. After a while I got quite used to the fact that as
I would check my morning email and on-line news, he would be there with me surveying the world.
I got so used to it that I started to take him for granted, even became comforted by the fact that he was there,
ridin' shot gun.
Then, last week, as he was climbing around looking like a small gray/green human, I really started to wonder about
him. And why he was there. I mean seriously wonder why he was there. It was too odd.
Now, I'll back up a little and leave him hang for a moment in this story.
A few weeks ago my best friend died.
This best friend was no ordinary guy. He was Walt Bresette. Walter, who was a Chippewa from the Red Cliff Reservation
was the kind of intelligent, articulate environmentalist that you would wish populated every community. He was
humorous and generous of heart. Half the folks in the Great Lakes basin from Canada to the US knew, and most loved,
this guy. He could take a serious issue like environmental racism and cultural genocide and really make you feel
it and move you to do something about it straight out of your heart. Walter was well known and respected throughout
Indian Country. Heck, the Governor even sent flowers to his funeral, the very same governor who worked like crazy
to get Chippewa Treaty Rights taken away. I'm sure that governor wouldn't even have minded if all the Chippewas
had been taken away too, that way he could have furthered his pro mining agenda ever so much easier. But, then
, there was Walter standing in his way. Why Walter even stood on the train tracks one time and had hundreds of
his best friends join him and they eventually stopped a huge acid mine from happening. That's the kind of guy he
was. And he was jolly. People loved to hear him laugh and to speak.
Well, now that voice is gone, but the stuff that he worked on is not.
Walter had an idea that the air and water should be protected for the next generations to come. Based on the Native
American concept of any decision that is made one should always view it's impact on the seven generations yet to
come. Not a bad idea. He'd point backwards to the ones that were his great, great, great grandparents and say that
if it were not for them looking out for him that he wouldn't be here. None of us. So Walter came up with an idea
to make an amendment to the US Constitution that would protect the "Common Property" of clean air and
clean water and land for our children's, children's, children. He called it "The Seventh Generation Initiative".
It would make sure that the corporations of the world would not take it all in their grab of power.
A lot of folks agreed with him and have decided to carry it forth, knowing that it might take awhile.
Walter, being a sober and traditional man, had a good handle on how all things are connected. Plants, animals,
water, air, people. He also understood the crisis that the world is facing.
Walter had recently become very concerned about the impact of a global climate change and what affect that would
have on our world, particularly the indigenous peoples who are tied to their homelands by culture and food. With
the Chippewa it is wild rice and fish, with other tribes it is different food indigenous to their part of the earth.
Race didn't matter, he had Northern European Sami friends who relied on reindeer to sustain them. And then the
reindeer got hit by Chernobyl's radiation. It all worried Walter.
Walter was a writer and I remember one time reading a story that he wrote where he said that "love and water
know no boundary" . He felt the same about community. He cared deeply. He had a universal heart. He cared
about the Nigerian people whose way of life was being killed by Shell Oil. He cared about the U'wa tribe in Colombia
being encroached upon by Occidental Petroleum. He worked hard to help the tiny little Sokaogon Chippewa tribe battle
Exxon and Rio Algom from building the largest toxic waste dump in the history of Wisconsin just upstream from the
tribe. He cared about the bears and the eagles and the fish. He worried about Chippewa mothers having to feed mercury
contaminated fish to their families because coal burning electrical plants had loaded the air with mercury.
He was good at seeing "the Big Picture" and had a way of getting others to see it too. I remember a particularly
passionate speech he made one time at a Protect the Earth Community Gathering where he said, "there are no
more choices, it's too late to decide where this dam will go or where that mine will be permitted. It is too late
to stand idly by. Our children will ask us 'Where were you when they polluted our rivers. Where were you when they
poisoned our bodies'".
And then, at 51, his heart stopped. But, his words remain and the way that he nudged us into becoming awake remains.
So, there I was, working in my studio and thinking about what Walter had said when I became distracted by this
small gray/green human like guy creeping across my computer equipment.
I had been working on a story about the upcoming computer problem called Y2K. The problem that may very well cause
the world to take one big pause come next January. Walter had asked me to help make sure that people on the Rez
knew where to get water in case the electricity went out because of the computers failing.
My computer was humming along and I was typing, but, I had to stop when Tree Frog went spidering across my view.
He stopped and turned around and just sat there looking at me.
Well, I sat back and looked at him. For five months now he had been riding there with me and I was suddenly over
taken by an urge to know why he was there and not in the greenhouse, where I figured he'd live a happier frog life.
"Why are you here", I found myself asking him. Not being one who is used to asking frogs this type of
personal question, it seemed rather odd.
As I looked at him, dead on, his eyes looked directly at me and I heard a tone. The tone that I heard seemed to
hit me right in the center of my mind and seemed to be coming from him. It sounded very nearly like the same one
as my computer, but it also felt good, really good. In that tone I could hear him "say" to me, "Because
I want you to understand". Yo. That was weird. Because I want you to understand. "Understand what?",
my human mind jumped in. Then, after a moment of feeling this communication, odd as it was, I felt I understood
why he was there. I came to understand that it feels really good to frogs to hear other frogs. To listen to other
frogs. To communicate. I came to understand that frogs simply want to hear other frogs. And possibly the tone of
my computer sounded to him like other tree frogs.
Then I remembered something.
I recalled seeing a movie one time called "Emerald Forest" where a dam was to be built in the jungle
and it was seriously about to wipe out the forest people. The Yanomami people and the other beings of the jungle.
At the last moment all of the tree frogs of the forest called out together and the tone brought that dam down.
I kept working. I was working on a story about global climate change and had just received a fax from a friend
who is working with Native communities to help them get set up with wind power and solar power to generate electricity
instead of using nukes, who dump waste on Indian land, and coal which puts mercury into Chippewa fish. The story
he sent said that the earth is warming at 1.9 degrees each DECADE. At that rate I knew that the maple trees that
I love to tap each spring for syrup would not survive for my children. My beautiful Wisconsin would become a prairie
by the next generation.
At that moment my vision was distracted by a movement. Tree Frog had leaped across my foot and was sitting on the
floor in front of my computer. He looked every bit like the RCA dog with it's head tipped ,beholding "his
master's voice" coming from the old Victrola.
Then, Tree Frog reached up his hand to his left ear. He cupped it there. Then turned his head as he sat before
the computer and reached up his right hand to his other ear. He turned his head this way and that listening to
that tone. Very focused. He then began to turn a very subtle, but, brilliant shade of green and leaped full force
on to the computer, climbed up the wires of the sound equipment and took up his place atop the machine.
And then I remembered the story about the frogs that I had heard last year on public radio. The story moved me
at the time. Frogs, it said were dying. Around the world, frogs were dying. It said that because frog's skin is
like a lung turned inside out that their skin was being affected by pollution and global climate change. It said
that in the wet rainy forests that frogs were being found whose skin was like paper. All dried up. This is not
how frogs usually die in the rain forest. It said that frogs are an "indicator species". That frogs will
die first because of the sensitivity.
Then, I understood.
The frogs have a message for us and it is the same message that Walter had for us. "There are no more choices."
There is no more time to make decisions about where to put what polluting industry. We have reached that time where
we must be the adults for the planet, for the sake of the future generations of human AND for frogs. Because we
Because we are related.
Then I understood that there are no boundaries, that there is no more time.
That we, for the sake of our relatives must act now.
And then I understood,
not only why frog was there,
but, also why I am here.
And why Walter was.
to share the circle...to build community without
Walt Bresette on the Seventh Generation Amendment
to protect the air, land and water