Senecas paddling down Allegheny River

From left, Degawëno:da’s (“He who thunders” in the Seneca language) and Willson Clark are paddling down the entire Allegheny River to raise awareness for environmental protection, specifically against the North Access Pipeline coming through the region.

SALAMANCA — In a battle to protect the region’s natural waterways, members of the Seneca Nation are paddling down the entire Allegheny River to raise awareness for environmental causes.

The 290-mile journey down the river, called Paddle with Peace and Prayer to Protect Our Waters, is a cause by Defend Ohi:yo’, the Seneca Nation group that helped stop a plan to dispose of treated fracking water in the Allegheny River near Coudersport, Pa., last year.

Meaning “beautiful river,” Ohi:yo’ is the Seneca name for the Allegheny River.

Led by Degawëno:da’s (“He who thunders” in the Seneca language) and Willson Clark, the Defend Ohi:yo’ duo and those paddling with them stopped near the Seneca Nation health center in Salamanca Thursday on their way to Pittsburgh, Pa., a 15-day trip altogether.

“We’re hoping to raise awareness and join people of like minds and let them know they have the strength to stand up, and we’re there to support them,” said Degawëno:da’s. “This is our personal contribution to raise awareness and give others the opportunity to share their perspective.”

As residents of the Seneca Nation’s Allegany Territory, Degawëno:da’s and Willson said their current concerns regard the Natural Fuel Gas (NFG) Northern Access Pipeline and FM100 Project that poses a threat to the region’s rivers and streams.

Announced in March, the proposed pipeline would extend an existing pipeline network in the area through northwestern Pennsylvania and transport Marcellus gas to the Williams’ Transco Pipeline, a natural gas pipeline that will bring gas from the Gulf Coast to the New Jersey and New York City area. Salamanca could be one of the communities the FM100 passes through.

“Our goals are to bring awareness, bring like minds together and try to save Mother Earth from the corporations trying to poison her,” Clark said.

Clark become involved with the journey after learning about a canoe trip down the river to raise awareness against the pipeline.

“As soon as I heard about it, I was all in,” he said. “After I got on board, I found out we were going the whole length of the Allegheny.”

The first leg of the paddle began privately earlier in May with a ceremony near the headwaters of the Allegheny River outside Coudersport, Pa. The public journey started in Port Allegany, Pa.

The public is welcome to join the Defend Ohi:yo’ paddlers on their journey as they plan to travel between 25 and 30 miles a day, depending on conditions and weather. All participants paddle at their own risk.

“There have been a few people that have dropped in with kayaks and paddled several lengths of the way with us,” Clark said. “We even had a road crew from the Bradford (Pa.) area following us.”

The road crews meet the group along the banks and provide warm beverages, transportation for the kayaks, food, “moral support and whatever we need,” he said.

At the end of their journey, the group will land in Pittsburgh, Pa., on June 8. From there, Defend Ohi:yo’ plan to make their way to the World Peace & Prayer Day event near Cincinnati, Ohio, June 18-21.

“We’re protecting the waterways, the waterways being the lifeblood of all creation,” Degawëno:da’s said. “It’s something that should be highly respected and honored.”

“I’m honored to be here,” Clark added. “It’s a great honor to do this for my community.”

For more information or to see where the group is each day, visit defendohiyo.org or search “Paddle with Peace and Prayer for Water Protection” on Facebook.

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