Mille Lacs Band member Tania Aubid, from the East Lake community, has been opposing oil pipelines for years, and not without personal risk. Aubid’s house has been a target of suspicious activity, she’s been publicly harassed, and there have even been death threats. Aubid has even been recognized for her dedication, receiving a Water Protector Award at the Manidoo-Giziisoons Gala, or Feast of the Little Spirit Moon, held by Honor the Earth on December 21 in Duluth. She was in the company of four other Anishinaabe women who were awarded for their courageousness, resilience, and leadership as nibi genawendangig (water protectors) for our region.
PUC hearing outcomes
In November, as part of the ongoing battle, Aubid and many other tribal members from all over the state attended the evidentiary hearings the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission held concerning Line 3. The hearings lasted twelve days, during which a legal team representing the White Earth, Leech Lake, Fond du Lac, Mille Lacs, and Red Lake bands intervened on their behalf. Also attending and participating were concerned landowners, environmental groups, and the Youth Climate Intervenors, a group of young individuals who have told the state and Enbridge that they don’t want dirty oil in their future — for their own sake, their children’s, and the sake of all life.
What they and the rest of Minnesota face is the largest pipeline project in the U.S., backed by a foreign oil company that has the advantage of billions of dollars, dozens of lawyers, and a system designed to work for them. But Enbridge has been defeated before, when communities of both Native and non-Native allies forced Enbridge to give up on the Sandpiper project. Line 3 is the next wave, maybe the last, in this legal and regulatory battle which is redefining the role of indigenous peoples as environmental stewards. Gone are the images of a sad, solitary man asking people not to litter; Indigenous peoples have become fierce protectors who stand in the path of great monsters and demand recognition of our rights.
The November hearings were history being made, with the amount of testimony from tribal Elders and experts so unprecedented that the hearings went a week beyond what the state initially scheduled. It would have been preferable for every- one to have a chance to witness that history and even ideal to have made a durable multimedia record of it. Yet although they were part of a public process and a matter of public record, an administrative law judge otherwise uninvolved in the case ruled that there was to be no photography, audio recording, or video recording of the evidentiary hearings allowed. All record of what happened at the hearings is dependent entirely on the court reporter, a state employee, and whatever written testimony was filed. It made it all the more imperative for Aubid to be there as a witness.
“The State of Minnesota and Enbridge are putting our Manoomin at risk,” Aubid said. “I do not want the Manoomin beds to be a science petri dish when that pipeline breaks. Already quite a few Manoomin beds have died off. Enbridge already has more than enough pipelines running through our treaty territories.”
Others, such as the Youth Climate Intervenors, also reported on what they saw in the hearings at the end of each day, sometimes through internet videos or blogs. It was a statement of defiance to Enbridge, that it can try, but it won’t stop the voices of resistance. Enbridge has also tried to leverage power in the court of public opinion with recent advertising campaigns. The ads have been misleading, if not outright false, highlighting the company’s good safety record, good corporate citizenship, and interest in public welfare. This coincided with the company rolling in busloads of non-local employees during public comment hearings to speak in favor of the project, to make it appear popular, and to edge out local community members who might have wished to speak out against this pipeline in public. Enbridge stayed true to form at the evidentiary hearings, where its team of lawyers held witnesses for intervening parties to expert standards while accepting what can best be called pseudo-science from its own witnesses.
Pipeline leaks anticipated
So while Enbridge and the state circle the wagons with at- tempts to limit public participation in the approval process, our people continue to let nothing stop them. On the heels of the recent South Dakota Keystone spill of 210,000 gallons, it is more important than ever for indigenous communities to stay engaged in the fight. The Keystone Pipeline is only 10 years old, and it has already had three leaks greater than 16,000 gallons. This proves the adage that all pipelines leak, no matter how new and sophisticated they are, and reignites questions about the adequacy of the Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Safe- ty Administration’s ability to monitor U.S. pipeline operations. Nebraska’s approval of the Keystone XL project days after the Keystone spill is an indicator of how much bias exists in favor of these pipeline projects.
Part of the upcoming battle must take place at home, with the responsibility falling on tribal governments to organize and take further action. Legal advisors assert that now is the time for tribes to create resolutions against the pipeline projects and lobby state representatives to pull their support from or even actively denounce these industries. Furthermore, a document called the Anishinaabe Cumulative Impact Assessment (ACIA) was prepared on behalf of the intervening tribes in Minnesota and is available for review on the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe website. There are also opportunities for the draft to be formally presented to reservation communities so that band members can be better informed about the impacts of the Line 3 project and how infrastructure projects affect indigenous communities.
Between now and February, the most important thing the tribes can do is insist that a Tribal Cultural Resources Survey be completed and taken into consideration before any final decision is made on permits granted to Enbridge. Currently, the survey is only required to be complete before construction starts and therefore has no impact on any actual permitting decisions. Band members are encouraged to let their tribal ad- ministrations know that they support the fight against Line 3 and hope their leaders will support and engage in the battle as well.
Comment period remains open
To view the Draft Anishinaabe Cumulative Impact Assessment (ACIA), go to mnchippewatribe.org/impact_assessment.html. A wealth of data is presented in the ACIA, and it provides sup- port for the proud claiming of Anishinaabe heritage and the opportunity for band members to speak for themselves. The ACIA takes a long view, both historically and seven generations ahead, and honors the Nibi, the water, as the first Anishinaabe medicine. Input and comments are welcome and can be submitted to ACIAcomments@mnchippewatribe.org. The comment period will remain open until February 1, 2018.