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Water Protectors Are Prepared for Battle. Join Us.

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Indigenous leaders from Brazil and allies held a non violent direct action in NYC to show solidarity with the indigenous resistance and "Terra Livre" — the national indigenous mobilization in Brazil. Erik McGregor / Pacific Press / LightRocket / Getty Images

By Winona LaDuke

For the past seven years, the Anishinaabe people have been facing the largest tar sands pipeline project in North America. We still are. In these dying moments of the fossil fuel industry, Water Protectors stand, prepared for yet another battle for the water, wild rice and future of all. We face Enbridge, the largest pipeline company in North America, and the third largest corporation in Canada. We face it unafraid and eyes wide open, for indeed we see the future.


The Anishinaabe speak of this time as the time of the Seventh Fire — we must choose between two paths, one well worn and scorched, the other green.

Under a hail of water cannons, the name "Water Protector" was immortalized in the battle to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline in 2016. The rights of humans, and the rights of Nature, were trampled by the corporate machine of the pipeline company known as Energy Transfer Partners and $38 million worth of militarization. That's what was paid out in the name of "policing and cleanup" by the state of North Dakota to brutalize Water Protectors who came from a dozen states and cities to protest against Energy Transfer Partners and the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Standing Rock was surely a Selma Moment in the environmental movement. This was a battle over the water and rights of Indigenous peoples and nations, but this was also clearly a battle over climate change and the future. We left Standing Rock with a deeper understanding of who we were and of this moment in time.

For the past six years, the Anishinaabe and our fellow Water Protectors have been fending off mega projects — coal generators, mining projects and Enbridge pipelines, which deliver oil from Canada to the United States. After a three-year battle against Enbridge's proposed Sandpiper, a 640,000-barrel-a-day fracked oil pipeline from North Dakota to Wisconsin, Enbridge canceled the project August 2, 2016, and purchased 28 percent of the Dakota Access Pipeline. The largest pipeline company in the western hemisphere folded its hand.

Yet the company came back with a plan to build Line 3, the 915,000-barrel-a-day tar sands pipeline. The bitter battle between Water Protectors and Tar Sands Wiindigos ("cannibals" in Ojibwe, a word that now serves as a metaphor for colonizing and extractive oil companies like Enbridge) continues. This last month, the Bad River Band of Anishinaabe filed suit against Enbridge, Inc., demanding that the company remove Enbridge's 66-year-old Line 5, which traverses from the south shore of Gitchi Gummi toward the Straits of Mackinac. There, the opposition to a new pipe/tunnel scheme in a precarious crossing of the Great Lakes continues.

As an economist by training, I refer to capitalist economics as "Wiindigo Economics" — the economics of a cannibal. Enbridge's proposed Line 3 represents l70 million metric tons of carbon annually added to the environment, according to calculations made by analysts at Honor the Earth, the 26-year-old Native-led national environmental organization where I serve as executive director.

Now, slaying a Wiindigo like Enbridge is complicated. In this case, we must just keep saying no — legally, in the streets and in the investment world. We must starve the Wiindigo. Tar sands oil is extremely expensive. Put it this way: Every source of oil in the world is cheaper – much cheaper. According to Rystad Energy oil analysts, the average tar sands project won't even break even on the cost of getting the fuel out of the ground unless international oil prices rise to $83 per barrel and stay there. In contrast, the average U.S. fracked oil well will break even with oil prices at $46 per barrel. And that tar sands oil is landlocked. It will remain so.

Just before he died, David Koch sold his tar sands assets. He's rumored to have lost billions. The Koch brothers at one point held the largest tar sands reserves, but this August, they sold their remaining assets to a unit of Paramount Resources Ltd. "for an undisclosed sum following halted attempts to develop projects," according to The Globe and Mail. That's what happens with divestment and a lack of pipelines.

Native peoples have been shackled with fossil fuel projects, and many are withering away. For the past 70 years, four of the 10 largest coal strip mines have been in Crow, Hopi and Navajo territory. By the end of the summer, three of those coal strip mines will be closed down, and with them, many of the units of the aging coal generators — Four Corners, Navajo Generating Station and Colstrip Units 1 and 2.

At the end of the fossil fuel era, big companies try to dump their liabilities on Native nations. BHP Billiton dumped a 50-year-old coal strip mine on the Navajo Nation in 2016, and Canada's Trudeau administration is trying desperately to peddle the liabilities of the Trans Mountain Pipeline Project (also known as Trudeau West) to a collaboration of First Nations in Canada. But times are changing.

This past month, two units of the colossal Colstrip Power plants, fed with Crow coal extracted by the Westmoreland Coal Company are scheduled to close by the end of the year. In turn, lawsuits filed by grassroots citizens organizations such as the San Juan Citizens Alliance and its partners have forced the closure of more units at the notorious Four Corners power plant. Change is inevitable. The question is, who controls the change.

In 2017, the Kayenta Solar Facility came online with 27 megawatts of power for Navajo people. This wholly owned Navajo project is the first-of-its-kind utility-scale solar project within the Navajo Nation.

Navajo Tribal Utility Authority General Manager Walter Haase said this project "demonstrates the Navajo Nation is ready for large-scale renewable energy production," calling it a "gigantic first step toward enhancing the green economy."

Kayenta Solar was built in six months by Navajo people, who count among them more electrical engineers than any other tribe. On the White Earth reservation, 8th Fire Solar was launched this summer, producing Solar Rating and Certification Company­ — certified solar thermal panels to distribute throughout North America. Honor the Earth is also putting in 200 kw of solar to support the communities of White Earth.

Now is the time to choose the green path over the scorched path. The stakes are raised daily: Fires burn to the north, west, south and east, and we all feel the grief of our Mother Earth, for we are her children. It is time to be a Water Protector. It is time to be a Wiindigo Slayer — that is, it is time to stop the monsters and cannibals that plague our villages. That's what our Anishinaabe ancestors did: They slayed those Wiindigos, and that's why we are still here, 8,000 years later. It's time for this generation to summon up our courage, vision and prayers.

We are familiar with Wiindigos. We have been Wiindigo Slayers in the past, and we will be again. They have the money, but we have the people. We also have a vision for life in the future.

This story originally appeared in Truthout. It is republished here as part of EcoWatch's partnership with Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 250 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.

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Guillain-Barre syndrome occurs when the body's own immune system attacks and injures the nerves outside of the spinal cord or brain – the peripheral nervous system. Niq Steele / Getty Images

By Sherry H-Y. Chou, Aarti Sarwal and Neha S. Dangayach

The patient in the case report (let's call him Tom) was 54 and in good health. For two days in May, he felt unwell and was too weak to get out of bed. When his family finally brought him to the hospital, doctors found that he had a fever and signs of a severe infection, or sepsis. He tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 infection. In addition to symptoms of COVID-19, he was also too weak to move his legs.

When a neurologist examined him, Tom was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre Syndrome, an autoimmune disease that causes abnormal sensation and weakness due to delays in sending signals through the nerves. Usually reversible, in severe cases it can cause prolonged paralysis involving breathing muscles, require ventilator support and sometimes leave permanent neurological deficits. Early recognition by expert neurologists is key to proper treatment.

We are neurologists specializing in intensive care and leading studies related to neurological complications from COVID-19. Given the occurrence of Guillain-Barre Syndrome in prior pandemics with other corona viruses like SARS and MERS, we are investigating a possible link between Guillain-Barre Syndrome and COVID-19 and tracking published reports to see if there is any link between Guillain-Barre Syndrome and COVID-19.

Some patients may not seek timely medical care for neurological symptoms like prolonged headache, vision loss and new muscle weakness due to fear of getting exposed to virus in the emergency setting. People need to know that medical facilities have taken full precautions to protect patients. Seeking timely medical evaluation for neurological symptoms can help treat many of these diseases.

What Is Guillain-Barre Syndrome?

Guillain-Barre syndrome occurs when the body's own immune system attacks and injures the nerves outside of the spinal cord or brain – the peripheral nervous system. Most commonly, the injury involves the protective sheath, or myelin, that wraps nerves and is essential to nerve function.

Without the myelin sheath, signals that go through a nerve are slowed or lost, which causes the nerve to malfunction.

To diagnose Guillain-Barre Syndrome, neurologists perform a detailed neurological exam. Due to the nerve injury, patients often may have loss of reflexes on examination. Doctors often need to perform a lumbar puncture, otherwise known as spinal tap, to sample spinal fluid and look for signs of inflammation and abnormal antibodies.

Studies have shown that giving patients an infusion of antibodies derived from donated blood or plasma exchange – a process that cleans patients' blood of harmful antibodies - can speed up recovery. A very small subset of patients may need these therapies long-term.

The majority of Guillain-Barre Syndrome patients improve within a few weeks and eventually can make a full recovery. However, some patients with Guillain-Barre Syndrome have lingering symptoms including weakness and abnormal sensations in arms and/or legs; rarely patients may be bedridden or disabled long-term.

Guillain-Barre Syndrome and Pandemics

As the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps across the globe, many neurologic specialists have been on the lookout for potentially serious nervous system complications such as Guillain-Barre Syndrome.

Though Guillain-Barre Syndrome is rare, it is well known to emerge following bacterial infections, such as Campylobacter jejuni, a common cause of food poisoning, and a multitude of viral infections including the flu virus, Zika virus and other coronaviruses.

Studies showed an increase in Guillain-Barre Syndrome cases following the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic, suggesting a possible connection. The presumed cause for this link is that the body's own immune response to fight the infection turns on itself and attacks the peripheral nerves. This is called an "autoimmune" condition. When a pandemic affects as many people as our current COVID-19 crisis, even a rare complication can become a significant public health problem. That is especially true for one that causes neurological dysfunction where the recovery takes a long time and may be incomplete.

The first reports of Guillain-Barre Syndrome in COVID-19 pandemic originated from Italy, Spain and China, where the pandemic surged before the U.S. crisis.

Though there is clear clinical suspicion that COVID-19 can lead to Guillain-Barre Syndrome, many important questions remain. What are the chances that someone gets Guillain-Barre Syndrome during or following a COVID-19 infection? Does Guillain-Barre Syndrome happen more often in those who have been infected with COVID-19 compared to other types of infections, such as the flu?

The only way to get answers is through a prospective study where doctors perform systematic surveillance and collect data on a large group of patients. There are ongoing large research consortia hard at work to figure out answers to these questions.

Understanding the Association Between COVID-19 and Guillain-Barre Syndrome

While large research studies are underway, overall it appears that Guillain-Barre Syndrome is a rare but serious phenomenon possibly linked to COVID-19. Given that more than 10.7 million cases have been reported for COVID-19, there have been 10 reported cases of COVID-19 patients with Guillain-Barre Syndrome so far – only two reported cases in the U.S., five in Italy, two cases in Iran and one from Wuhan, China.

It is certainly possible that there are other cases that have not been reported. The Global Consortium Study of Neurological Dysfunctions in COVID-19 is actively underway to find out how often neurological problems like Guillain-Barre Syndrome is seen in hospitalized COVID-19 patients. Also, just because Guillain-Barre Syndrome occurs in a patient diagnosed with COVID-19, that does not imply that it was caused by the virus; this still may be a coincident occurrence. More research is needed to understand how the two events are related.

Due to the pandemic and infection-containment considerations, diagnostic tests, such as a nerve conduction study that used to be routine for patients with suspected Guillain-Barre Syndrome, are more difficult to do. In both U.S. cases, the initial diagnosis and treatment were all based on clinical examination by a neurological experts rather than any tests. Both patients survived but with significant residual weakness at the time these case reports came out, but that is not uncommon for Guillain-Barre Syndrome patients. The road to recovery may sometimes be long, but many patients can make a full recovery with time.

Though the reported cases of Guillain-Barre Syndrome so far all have severe symptoms, this is not uncommon in a pandemic situation where the less sick patients may stay home and not present for medical care for fear of being exposed to the virus. This, plus the limited COVID-19 testing capability across the U.S., may skew our current detection of Guillain-Barre Syndrome cases toward the sicker patients who have to go to a hospital. In general, the majority of Guillain-Barre Syndrome patients do recover, given enough time. We do not yet know whether this is true for COVID-19-related cases at this stage of the pandemic. We and colleagues around the world are working around the clock to find answers to these critical questions.

Sherry H-Y. Chou is an Associate Professor of Critical Care Medicine, Neurology, and Neurosurgery, University of Pittsburgh.

Aarti Sarwal is an Associate Professor, Neurology, Wake Forest University.

Neha S. Dangayach is an Assistant Professor of Neurology and Neurosurgery, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

Disclosure statement: Sherry H-Y. Chou receives funding from The University of Pittsburgh Clinical Translational Science Institute (CTSI), the National Institute of Health, and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine Dean's Faculty Advancement Award. Sherry H-Y. Chou is a member of Board of Directors for the Neurocritical Care Society. Neha S. Dangayach receives funding from the Bee Foundation, the Friedman Brain Institute, the Neurocritical Care Society, InCHIP-UConn Center for mHealth and Social Media Seed Grant. She is faculty for emcrit.org and for AiSinai. Aarti Sarwal does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Reposted with permission from The Conversation.