On Indigenous People’s Day, Anishinaabeg Leaders March Against Enbridge’s $7.5 Billion Oil Pipeline

The pipeline’s route would carry 760,000 barrels of oil per day, crossing 15 watersheds affecting 215 lakes, and violating Ojibwe treaty rights.

Amelia Diehl October 14, 2019

Tara Houska of Ginew Collective leads chants for a 200-person march against the proposed Line 3 tar sands oil pipeline, in Clearbrook, Minn., October 14, 2019. (Photo by Amelia Diehl)

CLEAR­BROOK, MINN. — On Octo­ber 14, Indige­nous Peo­ples’ Day, more than 200 Indige­nous lead­ers and allies marched down a high­way to Enbridge Inc.’s U.S. pipeline ter­mi­nal in North­ern Min­neso­ta, to protest the pro­posed Line 3 oil pipeline replace­ment project. 

Costing $7.5 billion, Enbridge’s Line 3 pipeline would be one of the largest crude oil pipelines in the world.

Brav­ing cold tem­per­a­tures and a foul stench in the air from the oil ter­mi­nal, sup­port­ers from across the state and region held up signs with mes­sages such as Water is Life,” Pro­tect the Sacred” and Hon­or the Treaties,” and chant­ed Stop Line 3!” As they marched toward the ter­mi­nal, a large, loud trac­tor with a Min­neso­ta for Line 3” sign drove ahead of the group, try­ing — unsuc­cess­ful­ly — to drown out the chants. 

Pro­test­ers arranged them­selves in a cir­cle out­side of the ter­mi­nal entry gates as Anishi­naabeg speak­ers demand­ed treaty rights be respect­ed, water sources pro­tect­ed and cli­mate dis­as­ter avert­ed. Behind them, large white cylin­ders, hold­ing tanks con­tain­ing tar sands oil jut­ted from the cornfields. 

The pro­posed Line 3 pipeline’s route would car­ry 760,000 bar­rels of oil per day from the Alber­ta tar sands to the west­ern edge of Lake Supe­ri­or, cross­ing sev­er­al sen­si­tive ecosys­tems, 15 water­sheds affect­ing 215 lakes, and sev­er­al crit­i­cal cul­tur­al resources, and vio­lat­ing 1854 and 1855 Ojib­we treaty rights along the way. These treaties enti­tle Ojib­we trib­al mem­bers to make a mod­est liv­ing from the land,” even on ced­ed ter­ri­to­ry (off-reser­va­tion). These rights to hunt, fish, gath­er med­i­c­i­nal plants, har­vest and cul­ti­vate wild rice, and pre­serve sacred or cul­tur­al­ly sig­nif­i­cant sites, would all be threat­ened by the pipeline. White Earth, Fond du Lac, Red Lake, Leech Lake and Mille Lacs tribes have all engaged in legal process­es in an attempt to stop the pipeline.

Some­thing like Line 3 has the poten­tial to wipe out the cul­ture of my peo­ple, the Anishi­naabeg peo­ple,” says Tara Hous­ka, founder of Ginew Col­lec­tive, one of the main groups involved in orga­niz­ing the march on Enbridge.

Hous­ka also notes the poten­tial for an oil spill that could dev­as­tate the area. Enbridge has built sev­er­al oil pipelines in the Great Lakes region, near­ly all of which have leaked. South­east Michi­gan is still recov­er­ing from a one-mil­lion-gal­lon oil spill into the Kala­ma­zoo riv­er in 2010, and the aging Line 5 pipeline, feared to leak into the sen­si­tive Straits of Mack­inac between Lake Huron and Lake Michi­gan, has faced mount­ing oppo­si­tion as its infra­struc­ture con­tin­ues to deteriorate.

A poten­tial spill … could impact mil­lions of peo­ple,” Hous­ka says. It’s also the over­all glob­al cli­mate that’s at stake.”

Cost­ing $7.5 bil­lion, Enbridge’s Line 3 pipeline would be one of the largest crude oil pipelines on the con­ti­nent. Tar sands oil is the dirt­i­est form of fuel, 20% more car­bon inten­sive than con­ven­tion­al crude oil. The project’s 2017 Envi­ron­men­tal Impact State­ment (EIS), writ­ten by the Min­neso­ta Depart­ment of Com­merce, esti­mat­ed that the emis­sions asso­ci­at­ed with a new Line 3 pipeline would have a social cost” amount­ing to $287 bil­lion over the first 30 years of the pipeline’s life.

Pipeline con­struc­tion also pos­es dan­ger­ous risks to Indige­nous women and chil­dren. Research has doc­u­ment­ed an increase in drug and sex traf­fick­ing and vio­lent crime cor­re­spond­ing to the influx of tem­po­rary hous­ing facil­i­ties built to accom­mo­date the pre­dom­i­nant­ly male con­struc­tion work­ers, known as man camps.” These camps, which often exac­er­bate sub­stance abuse prob­lems in stress­ful work­ing con­di­tions, are one of the many caus­es con­tribut­ing to the epi­dem­ic of miss­ing and mur­dered Indige­nous women. One 2008 report by researchers at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Delaware and the Uni­ver­si­ty of North Car­oli­na, Wilm­ing­ton found that rates of mur­der against Amer­i­can Indi­an and Alas­ka Native women on trib­al lands can be up to 10 times high­er than the nation­al average.

With so much at stake, Indige­nous groups and allies are fight­ing the project on mul­ti­ple fronts. Enbridge had orig­i­nal­ly planned to start oper­a­tion by the end of this year, but the project faces mul­ti­ple law­suits, and will need to secure sev­er­al key per­mits from both state and fed­er­al agen­cies. Although the Min­neso­ta Pub­lic Util­i­ties Com­mis­sion unan­i­mous­ly vot­ed to approve the project in 2018, the Min­neso­ta Court of Appeals over­turned the project’s envi­ron­men­tal review (EIS) this year in response to a law­suit by project oppo­nents, say­ing it did not address the risks of a spill in the Lake Supe­ri­or watershed.

The Min­neso­ta Pol­lu­tion Con­trol Agency recent­ly denied a key water per­mit on Sep­tem­ber 27, not­ing the invalid EIS. Enbridge will need to pro­vide more infor­ma­tion about how neg­a­tive effects can be mit­i­gat­ed before it can reap­ply again.

Enbridge began pre-con­struc­tion” activ­i­ties, includ­ing sur­vey­ing, land acqui­si­tion, engi­neer­ing and design in 2014, and the com­pa­ny intends to see the pipeline in full oper­a­tion in the sec­ond half of 2020. Even if Enbridge moves ahead with con­struc­tion activ­i­ties that vio­late their cur­rent per­mits, it may only receive a fine, Hous­ka says.

Still, sup­port­ers are con­fi­dent the resis­tance will grow.

The future depends on us win­ning,” says Mysti Babineau, an Anishi­naabe woman with the cli­mate group MN350, who helped orga­nize the march in Clear­brook. And we will, together.”

Amelia Diehl was a fall 2018 intern for In These Times. Her pieces are pub­lished or forth­com­ing in Jacobin, Geez and Audia Music News.
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