The Minisinaakwaang community of the Mille Lacs Band held a public hearing June 5 to gather testimony on a proposed pipeline that would cross tribal lands, bringing North Dakota oil through Minnesota to Superior, Wisconsin.
While the hearing was taking place, the state Public Utilities Commission (PUC) voted 5-0 in favor of the certificate of need for the project. Although the action approves the construction of the pipeline, the final route of the pipeline has not been decided, so the testimony of Band members may still affect the outcome.
The hearing, which took place at East Lake Community Center, was a response to the state of Minnesota’s failure to hold any hearings on tribal lands regarding the proposed pipeline, dubbed “Sandpiper” by Enbridge, the corporation that would build and operate the pipeline.
Two common themes emerged during the morning testimony: the lack of government-to-government consultation throughout the process and the need for an Environmental Impact Statement on the proposed pipeline.
Secretary/Treasurer Carolyn Beaulieu focused her testimony on the first issue, saying Gov. Mark Dayton has signed an executive order requiring Executive Branch agencies to consult with tribes on a government-to-government basis prior to taking action on issues of interest to tribes.
The Public Utilities Commission made no effort to reach out to the tribes, saying tribes had the same right as any individual citizen to submit a letter. “Treating a federally-recognized tribal government the same as an individual private citizen offends Minnesota public policy, Governor Dayton’s Executive Order, and our sensibilities,” Carolyn said.
She said the PUC claimed that it is not a Cabinet level agency identified in Dayton’s Executive Order, to which Beaulieu responded, “failing to consult with tribes based on a hyper-technical reading of the Executive Order violates the basic tenets of respect between sovereigns. It also violates the spirit of the Executive Order that Governor Dayton issued.”
Beaulieu said that even if the PUC did not think it needed to consult with tribes, the Department of Commerce and other state agencies should have consulted with the tribes and failed to do so. She added that Enbridge, too, had made no effort to consult with the tribes until after Mille Lacs and White Earth bands had scheduled their own hearings.
“We ask that the PUC slow down,” Beaulieu said. “Stop. And back up to a point where it can give tribal governments the respectful and honorable consultation we are due.”
Also stressed in multiple testimonies were the importance of manoomin (wild rice) to the culture and spirituality of the Rice Lake and Sandy Lake communities; the potential impact of a spill on the water, air, wildlife and forests; and the Band’s right to harvest in the region, which should have given the Band more input on the pipeline proposal.
Natalie Weyaus of the Mille Lacs Band’s Tribal Historic Preservation Office warned that the existence of archaeological remains could create problems during the construction of a pipeline. Her colleague Charlie Sam said Enbridge has not contacted the office or considered historic preservation in its plans.
Some of the most memorable testimony came from East Lake community members. Darrell Shingobe brought his daughter and his aunt to the table to demonstrate how the issue affects all generations. He dumped a quart of oil into an aquarium full of grass so people could see how it affects the water and the soil.
Harvey Dale GoodSky, Jr brought his baby boy to the table and gave a passionate speech about his political activism in opposition to the pipeline.
His mother, Tanya Aubid, who has been battling the pipeline across the state during the past year, also spoke from the heart about the inherent dangers of oil pipelines and the devastating effect a spill would have on the environment.
Tanya’s other son, Algin, was equally eloquent in his description of the importance of traditional activities.
For more on the hearing and testimony, check back to this page or see the July issue of Inaajimowin.