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Pipeline resisters link construction to missing, murdered



Enbridge Line 3 opponents in Northern Minnesota locked themselves at man-camp gates in civil disobedience to raise awareness. COURTESY / Martin Keller

BACKUS, Minn. — Eleven individuals locked themselves at the entrances to Enbridge’s Line 3 workers’ encampment in a civil disobedience action here on May 6, to raise awareness about the national Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women epidemic. Cass County jail held them overnight and released them in one of the clashes over the hazardous pipeline that brings apprehensions to more than 250 since the end of the year, according to organizers.

“Fossil fuel man camps continue to proliferate through the unnecessary expansion of the oil industry,” said Giniw Collective Founder and Indigenous rights attorney Tara Houska to Native Sun News Today. “We can and must stop these appalling risks to our communities and watersheds, right here and right now.”

Three Ojibwe nations—the White Earth Band of Ojibwe, the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, and the Red Lake Indian Nation—are suing against approval of Enbridge’s Line 3 oil transportation project. The $2.6 billion project is the largest in Enbridge history. It is part of the company’s mainline pipeline system, North America’s largest system, which sprawls across Canada, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, and Indiana.

The lawsuit seeks to overturn a permit that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued in November 2020 that allows Enbridge to discharge dredged and fill material into rivers and streams. The tribes contend that permit failed to consider several environmental impacts. Among them are climate change and potential spills of heavy Canadian oil known as tar-sands oil, or bitumen, into more than 200 water bodies and 800 wetlands in the pipeline’s path across northern Minnesota.

Tribes charge that the discharge threatens manoomin—wild rice—which is a staple to the Ojibwe people. Tribes’ access to the land, including hunting and gathering, is protected by treaties, they note. European descendants focused on obtaining Native land for its valuable natural resources in exchange for immediate needs for cash, goods, and food, they explain. As a result, loss of access to the land forced many tribes into the settler economy.

Extractive industries like oil and gas are some of the largest perpetuating factors of violence, trafficking, and murder against Indigenous women, according to opponents. The industries often bring an influx of transient male workers to rural areas near reservations, where they live in settlements known in contemporary parlance as “man camps.” In North Dakota, the Bakken oil boom resulted in the arrival of thousands of workers to the area. The phenomenon brought a surge of violent crime and aggravated assault.

On Feb. 14, 2019, the National Crime Statistics Exchange (NCSX) released a comprehensive report titled, Violent Victimization Known to Law Enforcement in the Bakken Oil-Producing Region of Montana and North Dakota, 2006-2012. The report uses local data collected by the FBI and concludes that the reports of increased violence in the Bakken region of North Dakota coincided with the oil production boom beginning in 2008. The rate of aggravated assault reported to police increased by 70 percent in the same period.

 

Pipeline fighter Alex Chatfield, a father and social worker from Massachusetts, told the Native SUN NE Today said he backs Line 3 mobilization for environmental justice reasons. “Together with other members of my Episcopal Church, I have been fighting to protect the Earth’s climate for my children and vulnerable people on the front lines of the climate emergency.”

Another Line 3 opponent from Massachusetts, Rachel Wyon said she “answered the call to stand with Indigenous mothers and grandmothers here fighting to Stop Line 3, demanding respect for their sovereign treaties and telling the world to wake up and stop the destruction of our sacred Mother Earth by fossil fuel extraction.” Herself a mother, was quoted in a media release saying, “Resist Line 3 and keep it in the ground for all living beings and future generations.”

Giniw Collective Founder Houska welcomed recent Congressional and executive branch attention to grassroots demands for protecting Native families and communities from the ravages of impunity from justice from violent crime.

“It’s a step in the right direction to see the creation of MMIW task forces all over Turtle Island,” said Houska. “Violence on the earth and violence on our people is never justified, no matter how the profiteers spin it.”

Organizers and activists have been marking May 5th as Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIW, or MMIWG, or MMIWG2ST) day since 2017, and April 29-May 5 as the National Week of Action for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

On April 29, the U.S. Senate signed a resolution designating May 5 as “National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Native Women and Girls.” President Joe Biden signed a proclamation for May 5, declaring it “Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons Awareness Day.” The resolution was sponsored by Sen. Steve Daines, R-Montana, who first introduced it in 2017.

“Today, thousands of unsolved cases of missing and murdered Native Americans continue to cry out for justice and healing,” said Biden in the proclamation. “On Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons Awareness Day, we remember the Indigenous people who we have lost to murder and those who remain missing and commit to working with tribal nations to ensure any instance of a missing or murdered person is met with swift and effective action.”

Marla Marcum, a cofounder of the Climate Disobedience Center and a person of faith who lives on Cherokee lands in Knoxville, Tenn., said in a media release, “I feel called to take this action in solidarity with the Indigenous leaders who defend the lands and waters that are most directly impacted by Line 3 and the communities who search for and mourn the missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, and two spirit relatives taken from them by pipeline construction man camps like this one.”

In seeking support for Line 3, Enbridge investors pointed to the thousands of local jobs the project would create. However, according to an Enbridge 2020 fourth-quarter report, Minnesotans held only 33 percent of Line 3 jobs and worked only 28 percent of total hours. In the fourth quarter, Enbridge employed 4,642 total workers; 1,548 of them were Minnesotan.

Enbridge’s 2021 first-quarter report includes information on Indigenous workers hired on Line 3, omitting data on all Minnesota hires. A total of 501 were Indigenous out of 8,079 total employees at the quarter’s end.

 

Enbridge says the line is a replacement to provide a safer way to transport oil to Midwest refineries while creating 4,200 construction jobs and generating millions of dollars in local spending and tax revenues. To date, Enbridge has reimbursed law enforcement agencies more than $750,000 to monitor dissidence. The money is drawn from an escrow account managed by the Minnesota Public Utilities Committee.

“We are deeply concerned that a foreign multinational corporation is financing police in Minnesota,” said Honor the Earth Executive Director Winona LaDuke to Native Sun News Today. “As poor rural communities submit for reimbursements, there is a large increase in heavy militarized vehicles. It’s tragic.”

(Contact Darren Thompson at darrenjthompson@hotmail.com)

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