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“Not Having It”: Winona LaDuke on Mass Protest by Water Protectors to Halt Line 3 Pipeline in Minnesota

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In the largest act of civil disobedience to date to halt the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline, more than 100 water protectors led by Indigenous women have been arrested in Minnesota. We get an on-the-ground update on the day of action and how water protectors blockaded a pipeline pump station north of the town of Park Rapids, with many locking themselves to heavy machinery as authorities tried to disperse protesters by sending in a low-flying Customs and Border Protection helicopter which produced a sandstorm. Thousands gathered for a Treaty People Gathering weekend of action to stop Line 3, which would carry more than 750,000 barrels of tar sands oil a day through Indigenous land and fragile ecosystems and endanger lakes, rivers and wild rice beds. If completed, Line 3 would be “the largest tar sands pipeline in the world,” says Winona LaDuke, an Anishinaabe activist and executive director of Honor the Earth who lives and works on the White Earth Reservation in northern Minnesota. “We have a Canadian corporation coming in here trying to make a buck at the end of the fossil fuels era and run over a bunch of Indigenous people, and we’re not having it.”

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StorySep 20, 2023“I’m Not a Criminal… Enbridge Is”: Charges Tossed Against Winona LaDuke & Others for Pipeline Action
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Over 100 water protectors were arrested Monday in northern Minnesota in the largest act of civil disobedience to date to halt the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline. If completed, the pipeline would carry more than 750,000 barrels of Canadian tar sands oil a day through Indigenous land and fragile ecosystems, endangering lakes, rivers and wild rice beds.

The day of action began when over a thousand water protectors blockaded a pipeline pump station north of the town of Park Rapids, Minnesota. Protesters are calling on President Biden to shut down the pipeline. Indigenous activist and lawyer Tara Houska helped to organize the protest.

TARA HOUSKA: We have to stand together. There are no sacrifice zones. There are no sacrifice people. All of our lives, all of our land, all of our water. … And yet, here again, we see some of the most vulnerable people of this place who are on the frontlines — Black, Brown, Indigenous, young, queer — all these people who are typically unrepresented, in those decision-making places. Yet here we are, and here are all of our accomplices together.

AMY GOODMAN: Tara Houska also spoke on a live stream from the construction site for the pipeline, which is already 60% built.

TARA HOUSKA: We love our water protectors. They’re incredible. They’re amazing. They’re out here on the frontlines defending this beautiful, beautiful territory and using their bodies, using their agency, using their hearts, using their minds, using their power to stand up for something more. … We have treaty that were guaranteed for this place. They’re in violation of that. They’re in direct violation of their own laws. And we are not trespassing. We are — this is our land. This is our territory. Enbridge is trespassing, just like all the other companies in so many other places where sovereign nations have said no.

AMY GOODMAN: Many of the activists at the pipeline construction site locked themselves together or to heavy machinery, including bulldozers and diggers.

WATER PROTECTORS: The people, united, will never be divided! The people, united, will never be divided! We stand with Indigenous nations! [Bleep] the Enbridge corporation!

AMY GOODMAN: Authorities attempted to disperse the crowd by sending in a low-flying Customs and Border Protection helicopter, which repeatedly buzzed the protesters while producing a sandstorm on the ground.

We go now to northern Minnesota, where we’re joined by Winona LaDuke, the longtime Indigenous leader who has been organizing for years to block the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline. She lives and works on the White Earth Reservation in northern Minnesota, is the executive director of Honor the Earth. Her latest book is titled To Be a Water Protector.

Welcome back to Democracy Now!, Winona. Can you talk about this action, explain what the Enbridge Line 3 is, what the action was yesterday under the banner “Treaty People Gathering”?

WINONA LADUKE: Yes. Aaniin. Hello out there.

So, we’re here in northern Minnesota. First of all, I want to clarify: The pipeline is not 60% done; maybe 35 or 40% done. Enbridge is vastly overrating its work. They have 67 rivers to cross, including 22 with a giant drill, the same thing that they used at Standing Rock. They’re nowhere near those, and they can’t even move on those rivers until July. And so they are far from done. And as they relaunched about a week ago, after a month off because of road conditions, they’ve come back with a vengeance.

This is, in the end, intended to be a 915,000-barrel-a-day tar sands pipeline, the largest tar sands pipeline in the world and the most expensive. It’s now a $9 billion project. Enbridge, the Canadian corporation, has been bringing oil into this country for years. They’re responsible for 75% of the tar sands oil that comes into the country, and they want to shove it through these lines.

Line 3 is the line that we’ve been fighting. It’s a brand-new corridor. You know, it’s a brand-new corridor through our prime territory of wild rice, our clam beds, our fish, all of our territory. And we’ve stood and tried every process to stop this. I’m someone, along with all of these other women water protectors and our tribes, we spent seven years in the regulatory process. And now what we see is even Joe Biden sends in a helicopter to go and start hurting our people. You know, our people have had very little recourse. We have none. You know? And so, now we’ve come to go stand, and thousands of people have come to join us.

The pipeline project has proceeded, but the thing is, is that there’s a court decision coming out at the end of June. And what Enbridge is hoping to do is to get as much of this pipeline constructed before a court might pull their permits. And what they’re trying to do is what they did with the Dakota Access pipeline, which is get the pipeline done and say, “Hey, it’s too late.” That’s not going to happen.

And so, we’re up here. And, you know, thanks for looking at what’s going on in northern Minnesota, but this pipeline is the same one that goes to Michigan, the one that goes under the Straits of Mackinac, where Governor Gretchen Whitmer has pulled the permit and said that’s too risky to have a 63-year-old pipeline under the Straits of Mackinac. Now is the time for us to look at what this Canadian corporation is doing, because that company said they aren’t going to allow — the state which issued the permit couldn’t revoke the permit. That’s what they said. They’ve denied Michigan’s ability to revoke the permit and kick them out. So we have a Canadian corporation coming in here trying to make a buck at the end of the fossil fuels era and run over a bunch of Indigenous people, and we’re not having it.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Winona, could you talk a little bit about the scene yesterday, what happened, the impact it had, and also how the police and law enforcement dealt with the protesters?

WINONA LADUKE: Well, as you may recall, Enbridge financed the police in northern Minnesota in a really unusual agreement, where a Canadian multinational has financed [inaudible] account any police expenses associated with Enbridge. So, at last count, it was $750,000. We think it will go to a couple million pretty quickly. Interesting idea, though, that [inaudible] a Canadian multinational pay for it. So, they came in, [inaudible] Peoples Gathering. There was two actions, actually, which occurred yesterday. They came in for this Treaty Peoples Gathering. I think there was like 3,000 people. I never saw —

AMY GOODMAN: [inaudible] to a SOT as we fix the sound with Winona LaDuke, who is in northern Minnesota now. This is Kerry Labrador, a Native American activist who traveled to northern Minnesota from Boston. On Monday, she locked her arm to the tire of an Enbridge machine at the site and was positioned in the dirt in front of the equipment.

KERRY LABRADOR: I’m a mother of three children. I trooped out here from Boston. I’m a Mi’kmaq woman. And I’m here because they need backup. They need voices. There’s strength in numbers. You know? All these kids out here — I’m going to say it over and over and over again: All the kids out here deserve the future that we, as parents, promised our kids. And if this is how I have to fulfill that promise, then this is how I’m going to fulfill that promise, and not just for my kids, but for every kid sitting out here in this world.

AMY GOODMAN: Minnesota Democratic Congresswoman Ilhan Omar expressed her support for the protesters last week, tweeting, quote, “President Biden did the right thing when he canceled the Keystone XL pipeline early on in his term. Now he must do the right thing and cancel Line 3. I renew my calls to end this destructive, unnecessary giveaway to big oil,” unquote.

The new Line 3 route will cut across northern Minnesota. So, talk about what Congress can do. Talk about what President Biden can do, Winona. I mean, one of his big acts was immediately to cancel the Keystone XL. But DAPL in North Dakota, the Dakota Access pipeline, and Line 3, he did not cancel. Winona? We’re going to go to break —

WINONA LADUKE: Yes. This is [inaudible] —

AMY GOODMAN: Go ahead, Winona. Winona, go ahead. OK, we’re going to go to a break, then we’re going to come back to Winona LaDuke, longtime Indigenous leader who’s been organizing for years to block the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline. She lives and works on the White Earth Reservation. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: “Mother Earth” by Six Nations Women Singers. We are talking to the Indigenous leader Winona LaDuke, who was at the action protesting, calling for the shutdown of the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline in northern Minnesota. She works and lives on the White Earth Reservation and is executive director of Honor the Earth. Her latest book, To Be a Water Protector.

Winona, we saw the plane, the helicopter, the CBP Border Patrol helicopter. Can you explain what its purpose was, this Border Patrol helicopter and the sandstorm it created, and where people are coming from?

WINONA LADUKE: Yeah. People came from all across the country out here. A lot of church groups, a lot of Indigenous people, all kind of labor activists came out here, and they came to the Enbridge pumping station. Now, just to reiterate, Enbridge is only about 35% done, but they’ve entrenched at this pumping station, which, you know, Enbridge uses a huge amount of energy to move this oil. We’re up there, and I walked in there, and there was all kind of people over all kind of equipment.

When I left there to go to the second gathering of another couple thousand people closing down the line at the headwaters of the Mississippi, shortly after that is when they came in with the helicopter and sticked up this sandstorm so everybody could get all beat up by sand. And I just want to put out: That’s a federal agency; that’s not a state agency that came in. Most of the cops have been just financed by Enbridge, but that helicopter was financed by Biden. So, we have some really — we’re really concerned that Department of Homeland Security would come in and basically assault Indigenous people in our own homeland.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Winona, the Department of Homeland Security — I wanted to ask you, in terms of the ability of other people within the administration to have an impact on the president, specifically the interior secretary, Deb Haaland, the first Native American in a presidential cabinet: Do you have hopes that she may be able to persuade the president to take a tougher stand on this issue?

WINONA LADUKE: Yes. I mean, we will hope that Deb Haaland will protect the trust responsibility with First Nations and Indigenous people. That’s her legal responsibility. But it’s even — you know, it is other agencies. The Army Corps of Engineers issued these permits to Enbridge. We’re now looking at 630 million gallons of water going to Enbridge in the middle of a drought. We’re looking at that the Army Corps of Engineers issued the permits and that the federal government didn’t do an environmental impact statement on this project, because the Trump administration approved this project.

And what we want is a federal environmental impact statement on this project, because, guaranteed, using the data that is known, this would not pass a climate test, this would not pass the water quality test, and it would not support — would not protect the rights, the trust responsibility with Indigenous people, will not respect our treaties.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And you mentioned a court case that will be decided at the end of the month. In what court is that? And what is the substance of what the court is deciding?

WINONA LADUKE: Well, the tribes and our organization, individuals and environmental organizations and the Department of Commerce, Minnesota Department of Commerce, filed suit in state court, in state appeals court, saying that the permits, both the permit that issued a certificate of need and the environment permit, should be overturned. The state itself is suing to overturn those permits, because, actually, all of the projections were brought to the state agencies by Enbridge. So you’re using, basically, the dealer to tell you how much you need, and that’s a little bit questionable. And in addition to that, the EIS was failed, you know, was a really — you know, just a joke of an environmental impact statement. That’s the decision that’s going to be at the end of June.

And Enbridge has brought in another 4,000 workers, and they are basically trying to run over northern Minnesota and the Native people with all their security forces and all their equipment, and now the LRAD and the MRAP. We expect that soon, too, you know, coming for us. And that’s what Enbridge is trying to do, is get as much of this pipeline done by the time the court probably is going to revoke their permit.

The second set of court hearings are in August. We have filed already in federal court saying that the environmental impact statement is inadequate. We are challenging the Army Corps of Engineers. They shouldn’t have issued those permits.

And then, finally, I want to say, I’m one of the people that has a — I have a ceremonial lodge that we put up before the line. Enbridge put a stake in our lodge and is looking to roll over those of us who have been — you know, had ceremonies there for thousands of years.

You know, so what you’ve got is a political and a human rights and environmental crisis. We have tried to get the administration to address this, because the environmental injustice and because of the fact that you don’t need 50 new coal-fired power plants when the planet is baking. We have petitioned to every federal agency, and so far we have had no response. It just seems that Joe Biden wants to see if a bunch of Indian people and older women are going to get hurt up in northern Minnesota, before it’s an important-enough issue for Biden to look at.


WINONA LADUKE: And that’s wrong that we should get hurt.

AMY GOODMAN: Winona, your protest comes at the same time new data shows atmospheric carbon dioxide levels have reached their highest level in over 4 million years. This is from scientists at NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. We’re talking about 419 parts per million in May, about 50% higher than preindustrial levels. As we begin to wrap up, can you talk about how this protest fits into that larger issue of the climate catastrophe, and even the G7 meeting and the grassroots groups around the world criticizing, slamming the G7 for not taking more action in this climate crisis?

WINONA LADUKE: Yeah, this pipeline is an ecological crisis. That’s the fact. It’s not only 915,000 barrels a day of tar sands oil; the climate impact, which is almost unmeasurable. I don’t know what 50 new coal-fired power plants are. But it also trashes the boreal forest, which is really, really fragile. And once you start opening up the boreal forest, you’ve got a methane time bomb that you don’t want to let off. So, what we need is we need Biden and Trudeau to stop being irresponsible leaders and to stop this pipeline, because, turns out, you don’t need the dirtiest oil in the world running through the one-fifth of the world’s water. And this is the time to stop that.

AMY GOODMAN: What are the next plans for the protest of thousands now in northern Minnesota?

WINONA LADUKE: Yeah, this is just the beginning. As you may recall, we had about 250 people charged and arrested when it was minus-10 degrees out. It’s now 70 degrees. It was actually 95 degrees in June in Minnesota, which is not acceptable. That’s nothing that we are used to at all. It’s been record records and, you know, records on that. And so, we are expecting that more and more people will be coming to northern Minnesota as Enbridge ramps up. I mean, remember, we have 22 rivers to cross, and everybody in Minnesota has a canoe and a kayak. And millions of people don’t want this pipeline. And so, we expect that tourism of water protectors and resistance will just increase.

AMY GOODMAN: Winona LaDuke, we want to thank you for being with us, longtime Indigenous activist, has been organizing for years to block the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline, not to mention other pipelines. She lives and works on the White Earth Reservation in northern Minnesota, executive director of Honor the Earth. Her latest book, To Be a Water Protector.

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