Oklahoma, United States
Tar Creek springs from the ground in southeast Kansas… Meanders through gently rolling farmland… and bends along tallgrass prairie before crossing into Northeast Oklahoma. Sounds beautiful, right? A place you imagine swimming, meeting friends, taking in a sunset.
But it’s not. Tar Creek is a Superfund Site. An environmental wasteland. No one meets there unless Tar Creekkeeper Rebecca Jim is taking them on a Toxic Tour…or hosting a mock fishing tournament to show people just how unfishable the creek actually is.
That’s because every day since 1979, thirteen tons of heavy metals from contaminated mines poison Tar Creek and the land around it. That’s forty years of consistent contamination.
There are people who say Tar Creek can’t be saved. But Rebecca doesn’t see it that way.
While cleaning up Tar Creek is incredibly expensive, and the small community it serves is without political clout, Rebecca demands environmental justice. Justice for the people who have become sick from the site. Justice for the kids with lead poisoning. Justice for everyone who calls Tar Creek home.
As part of Waterkeeper Alliance, Rebecca is the voice of Tar Creek. The voice that reminds the EPA that residents actually want their creek to get better. That they need a waste-water treatment plant…because that’s what it will take to make the creek clean.
And what Rebecca wants most in life is to hear a voice that says, “Meet me at the creek.”
Listen to Rebecca’s story:
Photographed by © Ian Maule, courtesy of Culture Trip, with story voiced by Jon Hamm
Rebecca Jim, the Tar Creekkeeper and founder of Local Environmental Action Demanded (LEAD) in northeast Oklahoma and a member of the Cherokee Nation, has, since 1997, led her Native American community’s fight for environmental justice and remediation of the Tar Creek area, one of the largest and most polluted Superfund sites in the United States.
Learn more about Rebecca in the two-part 20th Anniversary edition of Waterkeeper Magazine.
Waterkeeper Warriors is a celebration of the 20th Anniversary of Waterkeeper Alliance, presented in partnership with Culture Trip. Inspired to join our Warriors in protecting the world’s waterways? Donate now.
Special thanks to Creative Producer Kathryn MacLeod, our partners at Wild Woods Picture & Sound, and our friends at Sonic Union and Sound Lounge.