May 03

I Am Not From Mandaree, North Dakota

I Am Not From Mandaree, North Dakota

By: Cedar Gillette

Local Contributor


My name is Cedar Gillette, my Indian name is “Awahowi Weasha”, or Mountain Woman, given to me by my grandma, Evadne Baker-Gillette’s brother, Ted Baker. I am Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara (enrolled) and Turtle Mountain Chippewa.

Lisa Casarez, Amber Finley and I are asking for people to donate water to Mandaree residents and it will be given away on May 3, 2014; the first of future events. Please contact one of us through Facebook if you would like to donate.

I struggled with writing this because I am not from Mandaree, but I’m from New Town. When talking about today’s quality of life on the Fort Berthold reservation, we can see the effects of the oil boom on that quality of life in that 60-mile distance between Mandaree and New Town. Mandaree is the most heavily impacted by oil production on the Fort Berthold Indian reservation. Sure I live close to Highway 1804 where there is consistent semi-traffic but I don’t live near the flares, the 24-hour truck traffic down BIA 14, or have an oil rig in my backyard like the people in the Mandaree area. But I do worry about the spills, the dumping, the radioactivity, the trade-secret fracking chemicals, the air pollution, and the documented water contamination that happened on April 10, 2014 in Mandaree, North Dakota.

Photos from Lisa Mason and Levi Grinnell.

Bathtub Yellow Yellow Pitcher




On April 16, 2014, tribal members received a reply from the EPA after calling and emailing them these photos. The EPA only addressed the color of the water, not the reported “egg rotting smell” or that it was “oily to the touch”. The EPA Region 8 Drinking Water representative, Sarah Bahrman, responded (I left her partially copied and pasted response as-is),

I was able to have one of my staff members follow up with Maynard Demaray, the Director of Fort Berthold Rural Water, as well as the Bureau of Reclamation to find out more about this     incident.Maynard confirmed that they have been flushing the distribution system starting last week and continuing this week…Maynard did say that they try to go door to door to notify residents when flushing is going to take place in their area…[p]lease pass this recommendation on to anyone in the area that you know who still has yellow water and have them run their taps until the water runs clear….BOR staff were able to check the Mandaree treatment plant today and verify that the plant is producing clear water, and the operators did not note any earlier problems… 

In general, colored water may be indicative of any number of things – yellow-brownish color is sometimes associated with high iron, which could be a result of the flushing.  We are not aware of any link between fracking chemicals or runoff and yellow water.”

I hope that it was the flushing of the pipes as they say. But I struggle with the WHEN. Meaning WHEN the drinking water is without a doubt contaminated from fracking what will happen to the people? How will it be remedied?

The process of hydraulic fracturing was exempted by many federal laws by the Energy Policy Act of 2005 otherwise known as the “Halliburton Loophole”, that included the chemicals used in the fracking fluid would be considered trade secrets by the oil and gas industry and therefore they do not have to disclose their chemicals to the public. And why wouldn’t they want to disclose their cancer-causing chemicals like benzene, toluene, benzyl chloride, formaldehyde and naphthalene? The industry says it only uses about 2% of their secret formula of chemicals in their frack fluid that also includes water and sand. It sounds like a small amount until you realize how much water they are using , but because of the “Halliburton Loophole” it is only an estimation, but for example, 4 million gallons of water with 2% chemicals is 80,000 gallons of chemicals! Per well! Fort Berthold has about 1,000 wells so that’s 80 MILLION chemicals underground! Not to mention all the wells just off the reservation, the entire western part of North Dakota. Also, this frack fluid water they use is taken out of the water cycle permanently. And sure they extract the oil and burn off the natural gas (unlike other fracked parts of the US who are only fracking for natural gas), but they cannot extract all the chemicals that they put underground.

Why am I so confident that fracking will contaminate the water? Because of the communities of Dimock, Pennsylvania and the Wind River Indian reservation, and just this week, on Earth Day, the Parr family in Texas was awarded $3 million for fracking water contamination that destroyed their health. All these people are living in that future now, their water is PERMANENTLY contaminated by fracking chemicals and they are now struggling with importing drinking water. Is that Fort Berthold’s future? Fort Berthold’s six communities surround Lake Sakakawea that goes into the Missouri River but will there be water at their shores but none they can drink? And don’t get me started on the Garrison Dam that created Lake Sakakawea; the historical trauma that all tribal members still carry. We were burdened with water because of 1950’s government development: a dam.

Like I said, I am not from Mandaree, but the oil and gas companies who frack there are not from Mandaree, either. And these are some of the same companies that fracked in the Wind River Indian reservation, Pennsylvania, and Texas. And a much better distinction between someone like me and oil companies is I have integrity and respect for mother earth and I can be accountable for my actions.

This should be a wakeup call for everyone. Let’s be proactive and protect our water and demand routine free water testing, because every tribal member deserves clean water, no matter where they are on the spectrum of being for or against oil or if that stance is further complicated by gaining money from it. Getting money from oil development does not mean it is hush money. Tribal allottees with rig sites, make whoever is fracking your land be accountable to the land and to the water. Put it in your leases that you want baseline water testing.

I will continue to pray for the water and continue to speak out about the horrendous consequences to fracking, hoping Fort Berthold can shift its future from a toxic superfund site, to a place with clean water.




  1. Wildlife

    I live in Mandaree my water looks clear but I do notice less wildlife and many beaver dams are drying up they need water too,,,

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