The Canadian oil company, Enbridge, might have thought they found the "path of least resistance" by routing oil pipelines through Indian treaty lands in northern Minnesota, but what they got was a declaration of war from the White Earth and Mille Lacs bands of Ojibwe. In June the Minnesota Public Utility Commission (PUC) granted Enbridge Inc. a certificate of need for the Sandpiper pipeline. The PUC completely ignored requests from the tribes to consider protests during the public hearing process despite the fact that the pipeline would violate treaty rights and endanger the wild rice and water of the northland.
How did the PUC get away with this?
It rescheduled its public hearing to a date two weeks earlier than the notice provided to tribes, and no testimony from the tribes' own hearings could be entered into the MPUC record.
"Manoomin," or Wild Rice, is a sacred food to the Anishinaabe. Its spiritual importance cannot be overstated. Tribal harvesters in Minnesota are the largest producers of hand-harvested wild rice in the United States. With Manoomin's status as a federally protected resource, it is shocking that the PUC would grant a right-of-way through treaty ceded territories and across sensitive wild rice growing areas.
The Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe released a statement condemning the ruling.
This is another example of the voices of American Indians being disregarded in favor of the rich and powerful. It is no coincidence that the route preferred by Canadian-based Enbridge crosses miles of vulnerable watersheds, crossing the poorest counties in Minnesota with the highest Native American populations, exposing those impoverished communities that already suffer from health disparities to severe and irreparable ecological harm.
The three and now possibly four pipelines, with the addition of Line 3, will create an Enbridge energy corridor, transecting the watersheds of Rice Lake on the White Earth reservation and the Rice Lake and Sandy Lake territories of the East Lake community of Mille Lacs reservation.
Technically the pipelines do not cross any Indian reservations, but do cross the watershed, including lakes and forests in northern Minnesota where treaties give tribes the right to fish and gather wild rice.
"The Minnesota PUC's decision to grant a certificate of need to the Enbridge Corporation is a declaration of war against the Anishinaabeg people, a slap to tribal governments, and a threat to the water of Minnesota," said Honor the Earth's Winona LaDuke.
"This is far from over," Mille Lacs Band Chief Executive Melanie Benjamin told the Brainerd Daily Dispatch. "We will do everything we can to protect our homeland."
If that wasn't a clear enough message, in early July, the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) adopted a formal resolution calling for a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on Enbridge Energy's proposed Sandpiper/Line 3 oil pipeline corridor across treaty-ceded territory in Northern Minnesota. The NCAI is the oldest and largest national organization of American Indian and Alaska Native tribal governments. Founded in 1944, the organization serves as a unified voice for the broad interests of tribal governments and communities.
Another new pipeline, the Sandpiper, will bring oil from the Bakken fields to refineries on Lake Superior.
The Enbridge Alberta Clipper pipeline, which already crosses the Minnesota Red Lake Reservation, is going through an approval process to double its capacity to carry tar sands oil. This pipeline has leaked on numerous occasions, threatening the waterways and wild rice beds of northern Minnesota. The proposed line would be bigger than the Keystone XL.
Honor the Earth has scheduled a series of events in August as part of its third annual "Love Water, Not Oil" tour.