Yip yip! How Avatar: the Last Airbender Fans Are Helping #StopLine3

Picture it: you’re relaxing and watching Avatar: The Last Airbender. You’re laughing along with Aang and the Gaang, you’re wowed by the bending, you’re watching teenagers fight back as greedy corporations and corrupt governments terrorize local communities with wanton industrial pollution!

What, too real?

Team Avatar has seen the destruction caused worldwide by the Fire Nation in seasons 1 and 2, but in season 3, they head to the source. When they finally see the inside of the Fire Nation, they find a lot of what you might expect from a militant empire bent on taking over the world: military everywhere, propaganda in classrooms, and attacks on joy (even dancing is outlawed in one town!). But what they didn’t expect to find was what they’re faced with in the city of Jang Hui: the Fire Nation poisoning its own people.

A riverside town, Jang Hui has been nearly destroyed by a nearby weapons industrial plant. The river is polluted, the local wildlife and the people poisoned, and livelihoods ruined. Though the people of Jang Hui are part of the Fire Nation, the empire doesn’t seem to care — continuing to fuel the war is more important than the lives and health of its people.

While Team Avatar agrees the village’s situation is terrible, most of them don’t think they can actually help. However, Katara is struck by the injustice and can’t just sit by and do nothing. Over the course of the episode, she takes on the alias of the town’s protector, The Painted Lady, to take direct action against the plant and stop further pollution.

Team Avatar looks out over the polluted river village of Jang Hui. Avatar: The Last Airbender S3:E3

As Avatar fans we can’t help but notice the similarities between this iconic episode and what’s happening now at the U.S./Canada border in Minnesota. For the past five years, the Anishinaabeg have been fighting to stop Line 3, a tar sands pipeline being constructed right through Ojibwe treaty lands. The pipeline, similar to the Keystone XL pipeline that was stopped earlier this year, would pass through over 200 water ecosystems and tunnel under 20 different rivers, including the Mississippi River, whose watershed reaches 32 states and 2 Canadian provinces and serves as a major water source for millions of people!

There is an existing pipeline–also called Line 3–built by the same Canadian company, Enbridge, that has already leaked multiple times. The current Line 3, which is over 1,000 miles long and was built in the 1960s, has over 900 structural anomalies, and is corroding. It was responsible for the largest inland oil spill in US history, when 1.7 million gallons of crude oil spilled into the Prairie River, a tributary of the Mississippi River. In 1973, the same Line 3 was responsible for a 1.3 million gallon oil spill in Argyle, “the second worst in Minnesota history.”

Enbridge is claiming they are ‘replacing’ Line 3, but in actuality the company is building a new line through a new corridor, leaving the old one still in the ground. Enbridge will have no obligation to repair the existing, already leaking pipeline, and no liability for the damage it’s already causing. The price of leaving the current pipeline and building another will eventually be paid by somebody in environmental damage, healthcare costs, economic losses, and more. Most likely, it won’t be Enbridge footing that bill — it will be local Indigenous people, low-income people, and communities of color.

Indigenous Water Protectors and allies sit down in front of a pump used by Enbridge to suck water out of the Mississippi River with a banner that reads “Protect the Mississippi. Stop Line 3”. To see more photos of the action, visit Honor the Earth.

Oil and gas extraction also drives environmental destruction, including, among others, depletion and contamination of fresh water sources, contamination of biodiverse areas, and the destruction of old forests and sensitive habitats. This, in turn, impacts local communities– like the Anishinaabeg– who rely on these ecosystems to grow food and drink clean water, and whose treaty lands these pipelines have historically been drilled through without informed consent. If built, Line 3 will impact 389 acres of manoomin, or wild rice, which is considered the ‘lifeblood’ of the Anishinaabeg. This is just scratching the surface of the issues with this pipeline.

If built, the new pipeline would be one of the largest crude oil pipelines in the world– equivalent to 50 coal power plants or 38 million vehicles– at a time when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has already predicted we will soon miss our decarbonizing target to protect our future from the worst impacts of the climate crisis.

A government is supposed to protect its people. It’s supposed to respect the treaties made with Indigenous tribes. It’s supposed to fight for our future. Instead, the Canadian and United States governments are choosing profit. It’s starting to feel a lot like the Fire Nation around here.

What You Can Do

Like Team Avatar, you have a choice: you can watch and let this happen, or you can speak out for Indigenous sovereignty, the protection of water, the value of the environment, the health of human beings, and our planet’s future. You don’t even need to be a waterbender to help!

Indigenous organizers are asking Avatar fans around the world to any and all of the following:

  1. Demand President Biden put a stop to Line 3’s construction.
  2. Tell your family and friends about Stop Line 3 and ask that they spread awareness, too! You can see some sample tweets and find images to use here.
  3. Come to the front lines and participate in direct action. You can find out more about on the ground action and how to get involved here.

Another thing we learned from Team Avatar? Don’t work alone.

On Thursday, September 2nd at 8 PM ET, we’ll come together for ​​Fans #StopLine3. Kicking off with a Painted Lady livetweet, we’ll join together to take hundreds of actions to stop Line 3 — right from your home. Sign up and learn more here!

Image: Profile view of Katara as the Painted Lady next to text that reads “I will never, ever turn my back on people who need me.”

Fandom Forward is a 501c3 nonprofit that turns fans into heroes who advocate for real world change. Communities in our world — overwhelmingly Indigenous, Black, and other communities of color — are fighting for environmental justice. If you are new to the movement, or a long time advocate, you’ll find friends and make an impact when you join us for Fans #StopLine3.

We turn fans into heroes. Join us: fandomforward.org/join