It is 2 degrees out and I am facing a line of policemen. Today we are in Backus, Minn. Usually, the arrests and police are in Palisade, Minn., that’s just “down pipe.”

Some 22 Minnesotans, ranging from 18 to 65, were arrested in Palisade the week before. Both towns have fewer than 250 residents and there’s about 1,400 pipeliners who have descended upon the area, like an occupation. Most are from Texas and Utah.

Twenty or so sheriffs are facing 50 water protectors. Behind the sheriffs is a pipe yard full of Enbridge pipes for Line 3. There’s a 20-year-old woman in a tripod high above the police line. She’s there for the water. Her name is Emma Harrison.


Newsletter signup for email alerts

Harrison calls stopping Line 3 “a tangible way to fight for the world I want to live in.” Other people’s children are out there too, and some grandmas. They are getting arrested for the water.

Arrests are mounting, and it’s just really cold out. I’m wondering if I should congratulate Al Monaco, the CEO of Enbridge, for his successful gaming of the Minnesota regulatory system, and his $18 million salary last year. Good work if you can get it.

With the approval of all remaining state permits, and swift federal approval by the Trump administration, Enbridge began to unroll a massive amount of gouging and cutting equipment in the north country, right next to the Mississippi River, the Crow Wing River, the Willow River, Shell River and more. They are headed for the rivers, where it feels a lot like a rape in a war zone. First, they bring in the equipment and raze the forest, then they put up some massive fences, close the curtain and start the drill. It’s violent and that’s the truth. They intend to shove this pipeline through.

The tribes have stood their ground, and with them are thousands of Minnesotans who have come to call Line 3 the “Pandemic Pipeline.” Approved as a face-saving jobs program in the middle of a pandemic, Gov. Tim Walz has set in motion more conflict in a state still hurting from the uprising after George Floyd’s death by Minneapolis police. At the end of all this conflict, all the arrests (about 30 so far), when the out-of-state workers leave, there will be 23 new jobs. And those jobs will take care of a pipeline that moves 915,000 barrels a day of tar sands oil, the dirtiest oil in the world, over 227 bodies of water adding about 193 million metric tons of carbon to the atmosphere annually.

Winona LaDuke
Winona LaDuke

The pipeline is racism at its worst. Shoving a pipeline through the heart of Ojibwe wild rice territory is a low blow at any count. How that looks: On Dec. 24, in record time (within two hours of the tribes filing a motion) the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission denied the Red Lake and White Earth Nations' motion for a stay of construction based on the pandemic and the challenge to the pipeline’s permits filed in August by the tribes and the state of Minnesota. No deal.

Big rush for the company, a worker is killed in Hill City, and a hot spot of coronavirus surges around the workers in Grand Rapids. The tribes filed in the Minnesota Court of Appeals, asking for a stay. And on Dec. 24, Earthjustice, a lead counsel in the Dakota Access Pipeline case, filed a legal challenge in Federal district court in Washington, D.C., against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers 404 permit for Line 3, on behalf of the Red Lake and White Earth Nations, Honor the Earth and the Sierra Club. The Earthjustice suit notes the lack of a federal environmental impact statement (EIS), and asks for temporary and permanent injunctions to stop Line 3.

As the legal challenges to the pipeline mount, we are reminded that the federal court stopped the Keystone XL pipeline while under construction, the DAPL pipeline was court-ordered to stop because of a lacking federal EIS.

Line 3 has no federal EIS. The company wants to get the pipeline done before the state and tribes have our day in court. The appeal, filed in August by the Department of Commerce, White Earth, Red Lake and others to overturn both the Certificate of Need and the Route Permit will be heard this spring.

The people would like to have their day in court, the complaint by Earthjustice says. “We, the plaintiffs … request … a preliminary injunction based on the lack of a formal federal EIS as the Army Corps relied on the state’s EIS, which continues to be challenged by the plaintiffs. Those grounds include a lack of spill analysis of Lake Superior, an omission of climate related impacts of the Enbridge project, the lack of a full cultural impact assessment, and the lack of any meaningful assessment of alternatives, including a No Build Option.”

More people come to Palisade. They drop off warm boots, soups, casseroles and Christmas cookies. It’s Minnesota in the winter, and if you want to protect the water, you’ll need some warm clothes and some lawyers.

Winona LaDuke is executive director, Honor the Earth, and an Ojibwe writer and economist on Minnesota’s White Earth Reservation. She is also owner of Winona's Hemp and a regular contributor to Forum News Service.