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“Defending the Sacred”: Indigenous Water Protectors Continue Resistance to Line 3 Pipeline in Minnesota

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Resistance to construction of the Enbridge Line 3 tar sands pipeline continues in northern Minnesota, where more than a dozen water protectors this week locked themselves to construction vehicles at two worksites, and to the pipeline itself. Just last month, 179 people were arrested when thousands shut down an Enbridge pumping station for two days as part of the Treaty People Gathering. If completed, Line 3 would carry more than 750,000 barrels of Canadian tar sands oil a day across Indigenous land and fragile ecosystems. The pipeline has the backing of the Biden administration, and this week Indigenous leaders and climate justice activists blockaded access to the White House, calling on Biden to stop fossil fuel projects and invest in climate justice initiatives in his infrastructure plans. Indigenous lawyer and activist Tara Houska, founder of the Giniw Collective, describes the resistance to Line 3 as an “all-out ground fight” led by young people. “This, to me, is an extension of the fight that’s happening all over Mother Earth, protecting the last beautiful places, protecting the sacred,” Houska says.

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

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

Resistance to construction of the Enbridge Line 3 tar sands pipeline continued Thursday in northern Minnesota as more than a dozen water protectors locked themselves to construction vehicles at two worksites, and to the pipeline itself. Just last month, 179 people were arrested when thousands shut down an Enbridge pumping station for two days as part of the Treaty People Gathering. If completed, Line 3 would carry more than 750,000 barrels of Canadian tar sands oil a day across Indigenous land and fragile ecosystems.

This is a Line 3 water protector who locked themselves to a horizontal directional drill and were arrested on felony theft charges.

WATER PROTECTOR: Being charged with felony theft by a company that is actively stealing our clean water, our clean air and our livable future. The state and Enbridge want us to be afraid. They have the money. They have the manpower. They have the courts to do their bidding. They want to bully us into believing their narrative that what we’re doing here is wrong. … If you think things can stay the way that they are or that oppressed peoples’ responses to the daily onslaught of violence that is life in the so-called U.S. is too extreme, then you have made yourself an enemy of a just and habitable future.

AMY GOODMAN: This comes as dozens of Hubbard County sheriffs also barricaded the camp where water protectors are staying.

The Enbridge Line 3 tar sands pipeline has the backing of the Biden administration, and this week Indigenous leaders and climate justice activists blockaded access to the White House, calling on Biden to stop fossil fuel projects and invest in climate justice initiatives in his infrastructure plan.

Meanwhile, two men working on construction of Enbridge’s Line 3 oil pipeline have been arrested in Minnesota as part of a sex trafficking sting operation.

For more, we go to Minnesota to speak with Tara Houska, Indigenous lawyer and activist, founder of the Giniw Collective. She’s Ojibwe from Couchiching First Nation.

Tara, welcome back to Democracy Now! Just lay out the scope of this protest and what it is that you’re protesting with Line 3, what it represents to you, and what you hope to accomplish.

TARA HOUSKA: Good morning, Amy. Thanks for having me back.

So, where we’re at, basically, is a all-out ground fight, people giving everything they have to defend this beautiful place and to stand up for future generations. I have seen over 500 people now passing through the legal systems in Minnesota, over 500 arrests through the cold winter, through a pandemic. To put that in scope, there were 800 arrests — or, 800 people arrested out in Standing Rock. So that’s where we’re at, even though this resistance has not been 10,000 people.

It has been something where we’ve seen young people, especially, really stepping up to the plate — this is their futures on the line — seeing 20-year-olds crawling into pipes when it’s zero degrees outside, literally risking their own safety to stand up for their own futures and for someone yet to come.

This, to me, is an extension of the fight that’s happening all over Mother Earth, protecting the last beautiful places, protecting the sacred. As you were talking about at the beginning of the hour, climate crisis is ravaging Mother Earth. The decisions that we’ve made as humankind are coming back to us. And this fight is happening in the meantime for these places, while the decision makers are talking, while the policy change is being pushed, while you have President Biden talking about him being a — talking about being a climate president. Line 3, Trans Mountain pipeline, Oak Flat, all these other places that are fighting, the Fairy Creek blockades, it’s happening all over Mother Earth that we are standing up and defending the sacred.

AMY GOODMAN: This is another water protector, speaking from close to where you are right now, from the Line 3 resistance site.

VICTOR PUERTAS: To start, like, drilling under rivers, you know, to touch a body of waters that are really important, there’s an urgency to be here. … It is important to be here, to put our bodies on the frontlines, to walk there, like we always say, with no fear, but with, like, the certainty that what we’re doing is right. This is a struggle for love. This is a struggle for life, for people.

AMY GOODMAN: So, if you can continue along the line of description that he’s given? Also, who owns Line 3? What’s it supposed to do?

TARA HOUSKA: Enbridge owns Line 3. Enbridge plans to send almost 915,000 barrels a day of tar sands from Alberta down through the headwaters of the Mississippi River to the shore of Lake Superior. It plans to continue the expansion of the fossil fuel industry, the emissions equivalent of 50 coal-fired plants and putting, just in this territory alone, over 800 wetlands, 200 water bodies, 22 rivers — that’s what Enbridge seeks to contaminate with its tar sands.

It is billing it as a replacement project. It is not a replacement project. It’s a brand-new pipeline and a brand-new route. They want a new route because they want a new corridor. There is no pipelines in the places that we’re talking about. There is nothing there. It is just pristine ecosystems.

And that’s what we’re trying to protect. We are protecting the sacred. We are standing up for what’s right. We have done so at enormous self-risk and enormous personal cost, but we do so because it is what’s right. We are standing with the sacred, and we’re willing to risk everything to do it.

AMY GOODMAN: You’ve been arrested. Can you describe that experience? And can you talk about the authorities and what they’re doing, particularly dozens of Hubbard County sheriffs barricading the camp where water protectors are staying? But first describe your experience.

TARA HOUSKA: Yeah, I was arrested back in the springtime. So, myself and several other Native folks, including the one that spoke before, Victor, were in a sacred lodge, and we were directly in the middle of a worksite. We prayed. We sang. We shared prayers. And we were pulled out, and we were arrested. Police then chose to cut apart our lodge after we were arrested. I was put into a kennel. I was strip-searched. And when I was brought to Zoom court, they put us in belly chains. That’s how they treated us for misdemeanor charges. My experience has been that of many, many other water protectors who have been arrested throughout this struggle.

And as far as the sheriffs showing up at our doorstep on Monday, I mean, yeah, we’re talking about egregious violations of just basic property rights. They attempted to say that because there’s a county — there’s a little parcel of county land, 150 feet of it — with an easement on it held by Winona LaDuke, actually — that we don’t have a right of access to it, that they’ve closed the county land, and we can’t access our private parcel by vehicles any longer. We have to walk on foot. But then they sent in a riot line of police, and no one was leaving, no one was getting in. So, 12 people were arrested in our driveway on Monday.

AMY GOODMAN: And what do you say to President Biden? He has approved this pipeline. I mean, he put a stop almost immediately to the Keystone XL pipeline. But when it comes to another pipeline, that you were one of the leaders in protesting, Dakota Access pipeline in North Dakota, and Enbridge 3, he’s still fully supporting them.

TARA HOUSKA: Yeah, and Dakota Access pipeline is running illegally right now at this very moment. And how many lives did that take? How many lives did that irrevocably change, and the human rights crisis that was the fight at Dakota — against Dakota Access pipeline on the ground, the dog attacks and so many other egregious human rights violations that occurred there? And yet that pipeline is still running, under a so-called climate president. The Biden administration has declined to intervene when it should, including in Line 3.

There is a very clear road and pathway towards intervention, which is reviewing — ordering a review of the water crossing permits issued under the Trump administration — all those wetlands I described, all those water bodies I described — to suspend this project and review those, so considering tribal culture resources, considering climate crisis and climate emissions that come from this project. Those have not been considered in the environmental impact statement that was done at the state level. That’s what we’re asking for. It’s almost a playbook directly out of Dakota Access pipeline resistance, which is order the EIS, at least do the review. And there’s no way it’s going to pass the test.

AMY GOODMAN: And your comments, as you alluded to earlier, about the weather catastrophe this country and Canada, not to mention the rest of the world, like Russia, are experiencing right now? A town has been wiped off the face of the map in Canada — Lytton, Canada — created its own climate with the heat above 120 degrees Fahrenheit, leading to a fire that just engulfed this town.

TARA HOUSKA: Yeah. And so, here in Minnesota, we’re experiencing extreme drought. The rivers and lakes are incredibly low. We’re talking five feet low. And then you have pump trucks all over rivers, including the Mississippi River, pumping out what Enbridge now proposes — originally, their ask was for 500 million gallons — 540 million gallons of water, that they call “dewatering,” where they pull it out temporarily and then try to put it back into the ecosystem, because it is such a wet area. They had to apply for a variance: 5 billion gallons of water. That’s what they plan on pulling out of the wetlands in northern Minnesota, while we are in extreme drought. So there are pump trucks all over the rivers, all over the lakes, and they’re pulling water out and loading into trucks and mixing drilling mud to drill under our rivers and expand the fossil fuel industry.

I’ve seen rice beds that are completely bone dry and bare, and seeing something like that and knowing what’s happening around the globe, knowing that right here in Minnesota we set records almost every day of June because it is so hot. And here we are expanding the fossil fuel industry. Here is, you know, the mainstream society choosing to engage in self-destruction. That’s what’s happening, and it’s happening in real time. And in the meantime, there are people who are pushing for something different, and we are risking everything to do it.

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