Mexican Village Sets International Precedent in Water Conflict Resolution
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The indigenous bloc that led thousands in the march on the Global Day of Action during Glasgow’s U.N. climate negotiations bore the standard “No Line 3. We are Here to Protect. Water is Life.”
The Canadian tar-sands oil exporter Enbridge Inc. had finished building the pipeline through Anishinaabe (Ojibwe, Chippewa) treaty territory more than a month earlier. Yet the Native-led civil disobedience to the line throughout 2021 persisted in defense of the wild rice that the hazardous materials conduit threatens. The resistance at the headwaters of the Mississippi River merged with other causes behind the popular demand for ending fossil fuel dependence.
“Line 3 is a crime against the environment and Indigenous rights, waters and lands, and it marks the end of the tar sands era — but not the end of the resistance to it,” said White Earth Nation citizen Winona LaDuke, executive director of Honor the Earth. “Enbridge has raced to build this line before the federal court has passed judgment on our appeals about the line, but the people have: We believe the most expensive tar-sands oil pipeline ever built in the U.S. will be the last.”
She thanked the “many water protectors (whose) brave efforts about Enbridge’s Line 3 have reshaped the world’s views on the climate crisis we are in, the treaty rights of the Anishinaabe, and the escalating divestment in fossil fuels around the world.”
Climate justice advocates took to the streets in Glasgow on the Global Day of Action Nov. 6, to remind government negotiators that greenhouse gases have only increased during the 30 years since the U.N. mandated they make commitments to reduce them.
Outside the 26th Conference of the Parties to the 1992 U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, — held the first two weeks of November — Anishinaabe citizens were prominent among the NDN Collective delegation from the Native Nations of Turtle Island. With the Turtle Mountain Ojibwe and Leech Lake Ojibwe tribal members were Diné, Navajo, Quechan, Tesuque Pueblo, Tahltan, Kaska, and Zuni Pueblo grassroots representatives.
Great Grandmother Mary Lyons, an Ojibwe elder and U.N. Observer on Women from Apple Valley, Minnesota, led a water blessing at Glasgow’s River Clyde. Honor the Earth held a panel discussion at the U.S. Climate Action Center at COP26, entitled “Indigenous Led Resistance on Minnesota’s Line 3 Pipeline.”
At the same time, water protectors back in the Anishinaabe homelands carried on the fight against the risk of “manoominicide,” arising from pipeline pollution in wetlands where wild rice, or manoomin, has been a leading source of sustenance and cultural identity for time immemorial. White Earth citizen Ron Turney observed, “The destruction doesn’t end with construction.” The Indigenous Environmental Network, a veteran organizer of the climate talks’ Native presence, called for support of those still maintaining Line 3 camps. Composer Samantha Cooper, one of more than 900 Line 3 foes facing legal charges for civil disobedience, released a music video “made to honor the water protectors (and) for the rights of manoomin.”
During the Line 3 resistance, hundreds on the frontlines were shot, bombed, gassed, beaten, bound, strip-searched, caged, and fined for direct actions to demand federal and state governments obey their own treaty and environmental laws. The water protectors were among thousands from Canada through the United States and into Mexico speaking out or bearing witness for cultural survival, Mother Nature, and her yet unborn.
Participants in prayerful intentional communities experienced trauma at the hands of the state apparatus employed to militarily repress the unrest. The repression mounted as the struggle deepened. Police meted out so-called pain compliance, variously labeled as torture, which is now under investigation for causing permanent nerve damage.
At the behest of the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission, Enbridge Inc.’s foreign private money paid the state police to impose the pipeline project. The Center for Protest Law & Litigation secured a restraining order — on behalf of LaDuke and fellow Anishinaabe pipeline opposition leader Tara Houska — against the Hubbard County Sheriff for the illegal blockade of a water protectors camp. The center receives donations to defend pipeline resisters’ constitutional rights.
Members of the media exposing the conflict were as apt as anyone to be treated like criminals in the field and in the courts. The vulnerability of remote communities to disease introduced by outside workforce settlements created a public health risk, earning Line 3 the nickname of the Pandemic Pipeline. Their temporary man-camps introduced illegal sex and drug trafficking.
In the aftermath, Turney said he visited multiple locations along the Line 3 route “to monitor and document this ongoing disaster” and “the continued contamination of our rivers and wetlands.” At the location of Camp Firelight by the Mississippi River, the drilling fluids continued to rise all along the easement. Downriver they were frozen in a ditch. At another location, they bubbled up from a spring, his photos showed.
“Those fluids contain up to 17 harmful additives and some shouldn’t enter a waterway. This is the worst I’ve seen it!” he exclaimed. He feared aquifer damage, like in a previous Line 3 construction incident the Minnesota state regulators registered. His aim is to collect information “crucial to holding Enbridge accountable for its crimes,” he said.
Enbridge Inc. is responsible for the two largest inland oil spills in the United States. Its 1991 Line 3 rupture spewed 1.7 million gallons of crude into wetlands near Grand Rapids, Minnesota, and the Prairie River, a tributary of the Mississippi. Enbridge Line 6B busted in 2010, spouting another million or so gallons into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River. Enbridge currently is operating its creaky Line 5 under the Great Lakes of Michigan and Canada through the Straits of Mackinac – defying the state governor’s permit revocation, the Bay Mills Indian Community’s eviction notice, and a Bad River Band lawsuit.
In Glasgow, chanting and drumming Native rights demonstrators sported mantras attributing this type of environmental disregard to capitalism and colonialism. In the leadup to the international climate talks, water protectors from Minnesota delivered approximately 1 million petition signatures to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers offices in Washington, D.C. They demanded a halt to Line 3 operations at least until it undergoes a full Environmental Impact Statement process. That would require government-to-government consultation between federal and tribal officials.
The submission – on national Indigenous Peoples’ Day — was part of a People vs. Fossil Fuels rally at the White House, Oct. 11-15, to pressure U.S. President Joe Biden to keep his 2020 campaign promises on climate justice. To support the demand, Indigenous leaders occupied the Bureau of Indian Affairs headquarters for the first time since the 1970s. The Biden Administration had kept its pledge to nix another Canadian company’s tar-sands oil line through Indian country –TC Energy’s Keystone XL — but was exhibiting no inclination to follow suit with other lines.
Enbridge announced Sept. 29 “the achievement of a major milestone with the substantial completion of the Line 3 Replacement Project and the establishment of an in-service date of Oct. 1.” That prompted Earthjustice Attorney Moneen Nasmith to pronounce, “Line 3’s operations will be responsible for more yearly greenhouse gas emissions than many medium-sized countries.” Nasmith added that “allowing the project to start operating without having considered those emissions is unacceptable.” Quoted in a news release headlined “Line 3 to Begin Flow of Dirty Tar Sands Oil,” she reiterated the widespread call: “We need the President to lead on climate.”
Fond Du Lac Native Taysha Martineau, an Indigenous founder of Line 3 Resistance Camp Migizi, had just declined to accept an award for Climate Week’s 30 Under 30 Climate Activists. She based her decision on the fact that major fossil-fuel promoters Wells Fargo, underwriter of the Dakota Access Pipeline, and Bank of America were top sponsors of the event. Bank of America sank $3.16 billion into the Line 3 project.
On Sept. 1, Honor the Earth and the Giniw Collective announced receipt of an answer to their petition to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, CERD. The grassroots organizations said the committee had taken “the extraordinary measure to request a response from the United States regarding allegations of (the government and corporate) human rights violations against the Anishinaabe associated with the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline construction.”
The committee requested that U.S. officials provide information on how they guarantee the right to free, prior, and informed consent; prevent adverse impacts of the pipeline on the Anishinaabe and their culture, health, and environment; guarantee the right to an effective remedy to these rights violations; and prevent violence against Indigenous women and excessive force against protestors.
Focusing on treaty rights violations – a first for CERD in engagements with the United States – the committee also requested that the government “provide details on the status of the treaties concluded between the Anishinaabe Indigenous peoples and the United States,” including steps adopted to guarantee respect for tribal hunting, fishing, and gathering rights.
Meanwhile, the crusade against manoominicide reached new heights with the tribal court case filing in August to stop the State of Minnesota from allowing the Enbridge corporation to use 5 billion gallons of water for the oil development. Plaintiffs Manoomin, the White Earth Band of Ojibwe, and several tribal members took the action in the Tribal Court of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe.
It was the first case brought in a tribal court to enforce the rights of nature — and the first Rights of Nature case brought to enforce treaty guarantees. It is grounded on a 2018 tribal “Rights of Manoomin” law, adopted to recognize that wild rice has “the rights to exist, flourish, regenerate, and evolve, as well as inherent rights to restoration, recovery, and preservation.”