Indigenous Groups Vow to Keep Resisting as Construction Is Approved for Enbridge Tar Sands Pipeline

StoryNovember 25, 2020
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A massive fight is brewing in Minnesota against the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approved a permit for the project this week. After years of resistance, pipeline construction is now set to begin by the end of the month despite the concerns of Indigenous communities, who say it would violate tribal sovereignty and contaminate the land and water. The controversial proposed pipeline would carry tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada, to a terminal in Superior, Wisconsin, cutting through Indigenous territory in Minnesota and running under more than 200 streams. Construction could also bring thousands of temporary workers to Minnesota even as COVID-19 cases are spiking in the state. “It’s been a long, seven-year fight against this particular project,” says Tara Houska, an Indigenous lawyer, activist and founder of the Giniw Collective, who is Ojibwe from Couchiching First Nation. Minnesota leaders, she says, “are willing to put our children’s futures on the line to allow through a Canadian corporation to do as it wishes and to suppress the rights of our citizens.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González, as we turn to Minnesota, where a massive fight against the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline is brewing, after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approved a permit for the project this week. Pipeline construction is now set to begin by the end of the month despite years of resistance and the concerns of Indigenous communities, who say it would violate tribal sovereignty and contaminate the land and water. Construction could also bring thousands of temporary workers to Minnesota even as COVID-19 cases are spiking in the state. The controversial proposed pipeline would carry tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada, to a terminal in Superior, Wisconsin, cutting through Indigenous territory in Minnesota and running under more than 200 streams.

As Native and climate activists prepare to resist the pipeline’s construction, they say they fear militarized tactics like those seen at Standing Rock at the mass protests against the Dakota Access pipeline in 2016. In response to these concerns, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission has forbidden Enbridge from, quote, “engaging in counterinsurgency tactics or misinformation campaigns designed to interfere with the public’s legal exercise of constitutional rights.” But advocates say they’ve already faced counterinsurgency tactics by the police and private security.

For more, we go to Sioux City, Iowa, where we’re joined by Tara Houska, Indigenous lawyer and activist, founder of the Giniw Collective. She is Ojibwe from the Couchiching First Nation.

Welcome back to Democracy Now!, Tara. Talk about what’s happening this week, your concerns about Enbridge, and what the protests are all about.

TARA HOUSKA: Yeah, this week we saw the Trump administration do exactly what we thought they would do, which was approve the last, final major hurdle for Enbridge to begin construction of Line 3. It’s been a long, seven-year fight against this particular project in the regulatory process and the legal processes, and we thought maybe that Minnesota, with its Democratic leadership, would do something different. But it turns out they are apparently not as brave as Governor Whitmer over in Michigan and are willing to put our children’s futures on the line to allow through a Canadian corporation to do as it wishes and to suppress the rights of our citizens, including surveillance, militarization of law enforcement, direct payments to law enforcement. I mean, that’s what’s happening on the ground.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And could you talk about Enbridge, the Canadian company, for those of our viewers and listeners who don’t know about it?

TARA HOUSKA: Yeah, sure. Enbridge is, you know, the largest pipeline infrastructure company in North America. It is a massive company that is directly tied to the continuation and perpetuation of the tar sands industry. Tar sands is the dirtiest fossil fuel in the world. It’s pulled out of the ground up in Alberta, Canada. It is one of three projects that I’m working on, the Line 3 project. It’s also tied to Keystone XL and the Trans Mountain pipeline over in British Columbia. Those are the last three major tar sands lines that are proposed. All the others have been canceled due to resistance on the ground, particularly the Indigenous-led resistance. Enbridge has a long history of spills. You know, I mean, it’s responsible for the largest inland spill in U.S. history, over in the Kalamazoo River in Michigan. So they have a long history of causing pretty serious, destructive damage to the environment.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And besides the environmental threat, isn’t there also the threat of having hundreds of temporary workers from across the United States in the region in construction during the pandemic, especially given the enormous toll that the pandemic has taken on Indigenous communities?

TARA HOUSKA: Yeah, I mean, we’re talking numbers in Minnesota that are now one in 10. That’s how many people are sick in this area. Right next door to us in North Dakota, one in a thousand people have passed away from COVID-19. It’s one of the worst places in the entire world that’s been hit by this pandemic. And we’re already seeing out-of-state plates all over in rural northern Minnesota. We can notice when people are not from the area. It’s a small, remote place. You know, that’s the communities that are along the line. We’re talking some counties with maybe one or two or no ICU beds. It is a situation where you’re just kind of throwing a match into an existing pandemic by — I mean, we’re talking about Thanksgiving, or, you know, Trucegiving, or whatever it happens to be, depending on how your understanding of it is. But the governor said you can’t gather with your family, but yet they’re bringing in thousands of temporary workers to build this oil pipeline. So, where is the actual concern for public health?

AMY GOODMAN: And what about the counterinsurgency issues that have been raised?

TARA HOUSKA: You know, I mean, I saw that counterinsurgency language. I’m not exactly sure what the Public Utility Commission thinks counterinsurgency is, because we’ve already been heavily surveilled. We are being heavily surveilled. There has been reports now of Customs-Border Patrol drones that we’ve seen over our encampment and private land. We knew that was happening. There are people that are surveilling and targeting individual citizens, including myself, including others that have been leaders in this particular fight. There’s militarization of law enforcement all along the line, purchases of riot gear, bringing in of MRAPs and all kinds of other militarized force I can only presume has to do with the Line 3 struggle. The sheriff of Hubbard County, where our encampment is located, about 200 yards off the line, openly accepted a bunch of equipment, like bolt cutters and chains and all that stuff, from Enbridge directly, with a truckload pulled up to the sheriff’s station, and admitted to that, said, “Yeah, of course, we did. It was free.” I mean, that’s where we’re at.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And just last week, as I understand, two water protectors locked themselves to Enbridge Line 3 excavators, blocking active construction of pump stations. Could you talk about the ongoing actions of resistance that have been occurring and that you expect will occur?

TARA HOUSKA: Yeah. As soon as they started building Line 3 around the state of Minnesota, there was an encampment that was formed, back in 2018, when the line was initially approved by the Public Utility Commission in Minnesota. And so there’s been a series of ongoing actions against transmission lines, pump stations, all the “preconstruction,” which really is the same type of destructive damage into the wetlands and into these protected places, that’s now only upticking. I mean, there’s hundreds of excavators all over, scattered over northern Minnesota. And in the meantime, there’s been hundreds and thousands of people that have been training, preparing and building community together, recognizing that our freedom and our bodies are something that’s going to be needed in this long fight against the fossil fuel industry and against the destruction of our only home.

AMY GOODMAN: Tara, your final thoughts on this day before Thanksgiving that you’d like to share with people, and also the push for Deb Haaland, the congressmember from New Mexico, to be the first Native American secretary of the interior?

TARA HOUSKA: You know, it’s a moment where I think a lot of folks are maybe starting to wake up to the idea those construction paper headdresses and pilgrims and Indian stories really aren’t all that we were taught in school, that there are actually a series of massacres and broken promises that have occurred with the onset of colonization, that it’s not quite so rosy as our children are led to believe. And so I hope that we are able to come together with our families, if we are able to be with our families, or be together through virtual means or whatever it happens to be, and tell some truth about what the real story is and how we learn from that and move forward together.

That includes something like appointing Deb Haaland to the secretary of the interior position overseeing Native affairs. Imagine having a Native person actually overseeing Native affairs for the first time in U.S. history. That would be at least a step.

AMY GOODMAN: Tara Houska, we want to thank you so much for being with us, Indigenous lawyer and activist, founder of the Giniw Collective. She is Ojibwe from the Couchiching First Nation.

And tune in tomorrow for our holiday special with Jodi Archambault of Standing Rock; Allie Young in Arizona; Bree Newsome and Eddie Glaude; as well as Juan González on the Latino results from the election. And Friday, we re-air our documentary Four Days in Western Sahara: Africa’s Last Colony.

That does it for our show. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González. Stay safe. Wear a mask.

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