Respecting the Treaties and Defending the Sacred

22 December 2020

Photo by Fibonacci Blue

by Michele Naar-Obed

Enbridge Energy, a Canadian company with headquarters in Duluth, Minnesota, and Superior, Wisconsin, operates the world’s longest and most complex crude oil and liquids transportation system with pipelines across North America. Among other fossil fuels, it ships tar sands oil, one of the dirtiest forms of oil, responsible for extraordinarily high CO2 emissions increasing global warming and exacerbating the climate crisis.

Its most recent controversial expansion and relocation project, Line 3, has been given the green light to start construction on the pipeline's newest 337-mile segment. Portions of this line will go through the Mississippi headwaters, pristine wetlands, and wild rice beds, as well as through ceded territory of the Ojibwe Nation and Minnesota Chippewa Tribes protected Treaty territory. In 2018 and 2019, the tribes, along with environmental groups and the Minnesota Department of Commerce, filed a series of lawsuits and appeals. The appeals effectively challenge the entire project's validity, but the courts have not scheduled the hearings until summer 2021. Meanwhile, the state’s public utility company and several other agencies allowed the company to begin construction without waiting for the appeals.

Construction has begun on about five locations throughout northern Minnesota. Under Indigenous leadership, the battle to stop Line 3 is currently in the hands of the water protectors. Honour the Earth, the Giniw Collective, and the RISE (Resilient Indigenous Sisters Engaged) are leading the fight, having established base camps in three locations. Working with numerous interfaith groups, environmental organizations, and a multitude of allies and accomplices, they have carried out nonviolent direct actions along with constant appeals to Governor Tim Walz and Attorney General Keith Ellison.

Similar to what happened in Standing Rock, the Enbridge Corporation hired a security agency to work in partnership with the local sheriff’s department and the Department of Natural Resources Conservation Officers. The authorities have escalated their response to nonviolent direct action, with threats of tear gas, mace, rubber bullets, and tanks are now situated in surrounding towns. Water protectors have been accused of property destruction even though there is no evidence to substantiate the claims. The increased police presence and escalation of security tactics are meant to crush the effects of nonviolent resistance and of the efforts to uphold treaty law.

Unless the Minnesota Governor and Attorney General grant a stay on construction until the numerous appeals are heard in court, construction is expected to continue for the next six to nine months. There is a promise that resistance to the construction will continue as well.