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Pipeline construction gives rise to debate on Minnesota reservation

Hundreds gather along the Mississippi River in St. Paul on March 11 to call on President Joe Biden to stop the tar sands Line 3 pipeline that Enbridge is currently constructing in northern Minnesota. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

Hundreds gather along the Mississippi River in St. Paul on March 11 to call on President Joe Biden to stop the tar sands Line 3 pipeline that Enbridge is currently constructing in northern Minnesota. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

By DAN KRAKER
Minnesota Public Radio News

FOND du LAC INDIAN RESERVATION, Minn. (AP) — About a month ago, Taysha Martineau walked out of the protest camp she built in a small patch of woods near her home on the Fond du Lac Indian Reservation and knelt in the middle of the road.

Elders from her community surrounded her, scolding, telling her to leave.

“Go!” they shouted. “We want you out of here! Don’t do this to us!”

For several weeks, Martineau had been welcoming activists to the plot of land she had dubbed Camp Migizi — which means “eagle” in the Ojibwe language — to take part in the yearslong fight against the Line 3 oil pipeline, a 380-mile replacement project that Enbridge Energy began building across northern Minnesota in December.

But for some, the pipeline and the protest that followed its construction have attracted outsiders — and with them, trouble.

A day earlier, growing tension over the protesters’ presence on the Fond du Lac Reservation had boiled over. The Carlton County Sheriff’s Office said it had received a call alleging that three people connected to the pipeline protests had thrown suspect packages into a Line 3 worksite, just a half-mile from the camp. An emergency alert was sent out to people in the area. The sheriff called in a bomb squad.

No bomb was ever found, and the case remains under investigation. But accusations flew, on both sides. Martineau called it “law enforcement-induced hysteria” on Camp Migizi’s Facebook page. Forty residences within a half-mile radius had to be evacuated for several hours, Minnesota Public Radio News reported.

It was that threat, in part, that brought the elders — among them, the tribal chairperson — to Martineau’s camp. But that moment at Camp Migizi was one among many, part of a long, complicated relationship between the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa and Line 3.

“I was a conduit for their misplaced anger and their grief, because I’ve been out here and I’ve been vocal,” she said. “When they’re mad at protesters, they think of me, because I’m from here, and they know me.”

For decades, a network of pipelines has crossed the Fond du Lac Reservation, carrying millions of barrels of Canadian crude oil underneath its land every day. One of those pipelines is the existing Line 3, which has been around since the 1960s. When Enbridge first proposed replacing it with a new line, the Fond du Lac band was among the most vocal opponents, arguing the project wasn’t needed and that it threatened tribal resources.

But after state regulators first approved the project to replace Line 3 nearly three years ago, the band changed course, and agreed to allow the new line to be built across the reservation.

So while the governments of some Native nations are in court trying to stop the pipeline, others — including the Fond du Lac band — have agreed to the project as the best way, in their view, to protect their land. And while some tribal members, like Martineau, are on the front lines actively trying to block construction, others are among the more than 4,000 workers building the $4 billion project.

Since January, Camp Migizi has been a base for activists fighting Line 3. They come from Duluth, the Twin Cities, reservations across Minnesota, and all around the country. They’re Native and non-Native. Sometimes, there’s just a handful of people there; sometimes, a few dozen.

They oppose Line 3 for many reasons. They decry the pipeline’s contribution to climate change, saying it will only deepen our reliance on carbon-intensive fossil fuels. They say it tramples on Native American treaty rights. And they’re concerned the oil could spill into the more than 200 waterways the pipeline is slated to cross.

They call themselves water protectors. And they use the camp as a base for direct action: locking themselves to equipment, climbing into trenches, and often, willingly getting arrested — all in an effort to slow down construction of the pipeline, so that maybe it will be stopped by politicians or the courts.

Several challenges to Line 3 continue to wend their ways through state courts.

The Minnesota Court of Appeals heard arguments earlier this week in a case that calls into question the need for the pipeline — and that could bring work on the Line 3 project to a halt. But Enbridge Energy is already halfway through with construction of the project, which will replace an existing, corroding pipeline that carries crude oil from the Canadian tar sands with a new one along a slightly different route across the state.

Camp Migizi is one of several resistance camps that have sprouted up along the 340-mile pipeline route that stretches across a small sliver of North Dakota, into northern Minnesota and on to Enbridge’s terminal in Superior, Wisconsin. Some are located on reservations, on or near tribal land, including the Red Lake and White Earth reservations. Others are on land where tribal members retain treaty rights. Many of the camps are led by Native American activists like Martineau.

When Enbridge Energy first proposed the Line 3 project, the Fond du Lac band was among its most fervent opponents.

But then state regulators approved Line 3 — for the first time — nearly three years ago. Originally, the plan was to skirt the new pipeline around the Fond du Lac reservation, across land the band had ceded in an 1854 treaty, but where band members retain the right to hunt, fish and harvest wild rice. But the band concluded that, if the pipeline was going to be built, it should be built along the existing corridor, across the reservation.

So the band negotiated a deal for Enbridge to repair its other pipelines that already cross reservation land, and to compensate the band for having the pipelines located on its land.

Enbridge says the existing pipeline is safe but that replacing it will result in an even safer line, built with thicker steel and modern technology. It will also allow the company to transport nearly twice as much oil as what currently flows through the pipeline.

Some band members meanwhile welcome the project’s promised economic benefits. When the state approved the Line 3 replacement, regulators required Enbridge to put money into training for Native American workers, and to award at least $100 million in contracts to Native-owned businesses.

Construction had barely begun in December when Enbridge announced it had already spent $180 million, which the company called a “level of engagement … historic in scale for Minnesota energy projects.”

Camp Migizi remains busy.

Recently, Steve Karels drove to the camp for the day from Duluth to help put up a big tent. He’s spent a few days helping out at the camp over the past month. “It feels like a tangible, supportive action to be here, and to be uplifting Indigenous people,” he said.

Karels says he’s not aware of the request that non-band members stay home.

“The people that I’m listening to are leaders like Taysha,” he said. “And she’s definitely not telling white allies to leave.”

For now, Enbridge plans to continue work on the project for about another week, before taking a planned break on April 1. Construction is then scheduled to resume on the pipeline in earnest in June. And so, in all likelihood, will protests.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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