Police Escalate Line 3 Standoffs at Indigenous, Water Protector-Led Treaty Sites

The struggle against Enbridge Energy’s Line 3 tar sands pipeline continued with another civil disobedience action Wednesday morning. Five Water Protectors locked themselves to a horizontal directional drill used by the Canadian company to bore the pipeline under the Straight River in Hubbard County, Minnesota. One Water Protector has barricaded themselves inside the drill operating vehicle.

Water Protectors protesting the Line 3 pipeline have faced intense repression in recent weeks. Enbridge-funded police arrested more than 200 Water Protectors this month at a mass action at the Two Inlets pump station north of Park Rapids and forcefully removed Indigenous leaders asserting treaty rights at a separate occupation camp at the Mississippi River in Clearwater County last week.

“I come from stolen Monacan and Tutelo land where the Mountain Valley Pipeline is being constructed. I believe that from the hills to the headwaters we need to act in solidarity with all people resisting extraction in their communities,” said one Water Protector who locked down Wednesday, according to a press release. “Betray your whiteness, betray your class, be a traitor to a system that benefits you at the expense of Indigenous people, a system that steals our futures away from us.”

Meanwhile, the struggle is escalating at the state’s Red Lake River Crossing, where, at the site where the Red Lake and Pembina Bands of Chippewa Indians signed the Old Crossing Treaty on October 2, 1863, Red Lake tribal members have established a treaty camp on public land within territory ceded to the United States by the two tribes in 1863. On Tuesday morning, Pennington County sheriff’s deputies tackled, injured and arrested at least one Water Protector at the camp site after Enbridge began drilling Monday night near the Red Lake River without a tribal monitor present.

A screen shot from Red Lake Treaty Camp's Facebook livestream.
A screenshot from Red Lake Treaty Camp’s Facebook livestream.

Law enforcement has significantly escalated the standoff at the river crossing throughout this week, with the Pennington County sheriff’s deputies bringing police-trained dogs to the site — a tactic that came under heavy public outcry when dogs were sicced on Water Protectors at Standing Rock by private security in 2016. After the arrest Tuesday morning, police presence diminished at the site as construction work paused.

The Red Lake Band’s official monitor for Line 3 construction, Sasha Beaulieu, tells Truthout that it’s not the tribe’s Water Protectors and allies who are trespassing on the site; it’s Enbridge — since the tribe has a right to be there under the 1863 Treaty. Moreover, the Water Protector arrested Tuesday morning never crossed the gate that fences off Enbridge’s easement site, she says.

“You could see all those cops coming through the gate and arresting him on the other side of the gate, so I don’t know how they’re getting him on trespassing,” Beaulieu says. “The guy … got pretty banged up by the cops. They had to bring the ambulance out here.”

Red Lake Tribal Cultural Resource Monitor Sasha Beailieu at the Treaty People Gathering in Waubun, Minnesota, on June 5, 2021.
Red Lake Tribal Cultural Resource Monitor Sasha Beaulieu at the Treaty People Gathering in Waubun, Minnesota, on June 5, 2021.

After speaking with the sheriff’s office, Beaulieu says the office has declared the tribe’s treaty camp an “unlawful assembly.” As of Tuesday, construction remained stopped while law enforcement worked on the trespass order. Beaulieu expects sheriffs to move in on the camp soon and says Water Protectors there are standing ready to hold their ground. The Pennington County Sheriff’s Office did not respond to Truthout’s request for comment.

Beaulieu says the tribe’s attorney is working to request a longer-term work stoppage since she has not been allowed to monitor construction for the purposes of protecting archaeological sites under the National Historic Preservation Act, even after the tribe notified the company and law enforcement of her appointment as tribal monitor. Moreover, she says the Army Corps of Engineers has expressed concerns about the tribe’s request for a monitor going ignored.

As Truthout has reported, several Anishinaabe tribes have established pipeline resistance camps in northern Minnesota and are asserting Treaty Authority codes to exercise off-reservation jurisdiction over violations like trespass and to defend the rights of sacred wild rice, or “Manoomin” in the Ojibwe language. The U.S. Constitution’s Article VI Supremacy Clause clearly establishes that treaty law is the supreme law of the land, superseding any conflicting state law with regard to tribal rights.

“Now this is going to be a treaty fight because they’re going to come here with an order for us to leave later,” Beaulieu says. “They can come here with their state permit, but I have an assembly permit from the Red Lake Nation, and it’s a treaty permit, so as far as I’m concerned, our legal document should be upheld over their state document.”

Beaulieu fears the company is trying to put the pipeline in the ground as quickly as possible in order to skirt the tribe’s legal challenge over the Army Corps’ water crossing permit in federal district court in Washington, D.C., which is pending. Last week, the Minnesota Court of Appeals sided with Enbridge in a separate case in which the court affirmed state utility regulators’ approval of the project.

Water Protectors at the Red Lake treaty camp have not engaged in nonviolent lockdown actions so far. Tuesday’s arrest was the first associated with the tribally permitted camp. However, Beaulieu affirms that the Water Protectors aren’t going anywhere. “Now they’re getting worried,” Beaulieu says of Enbridge and law enforcement. “They know we’re not just going to sit here and sing Kumbaya while they drill on the river…. They’re trying to get us out of here.”

Prayer Lodge Struggle Escalates

Meanwhile, law enforcement officials are continuing to encroach on a prayer lodge established by Anishinaabe Water Protectors Winona LaDuke and Tania Aubid in December near Palisade, Minnesota, where drilling has begun at a site slated to cross the Mississippi River. Enbridge workers, escorted by Aitkin County sheriffs and the state’s Department of Natural Resources, entered an easement area around the protected cultural site this week and arrested at least three Water Protectors on trespass charges Monday despite an Army Corps order for a work stoppage at the site in December.

White Earth Band of Ojibwe tribal lawyer and 1855 Treaty Authority Executive Director Frank Bibeau issued a cease-and-desist letter to Aitkin County Sheriff Dan Guida and Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Sarah Strommen on June 18, notifying them that their encroachment at the lodge violates the American Indian Religious Freedom Act. Bibeau also cited the tribe’s 1855 Treaty rights of Manoomin and rights to travel, use, and occupy traditional lands and waters, arguing that further application of state criminal law against tribal members for trespass-related violations would deprive tribal members of federally protected treaty rights.

Monday’s arrests, however, show law enforcement continues to blatantly ignore the Treaty Authority’s legal notices concerning tribes’ 1855 treaty rights. So far, law enforcement has refused to discuss legal requirements in and around cultural sites and Enbridge easements with the 1855 Treaty Authority board, according to Bibeau.

Water Protector Winona LaDuke visits with a horse at her new camp at Shell River. She hopes the camp can teach Indigenous youth traditional practices including horse riding.

LaDuke was issued a citation in December for praying at the lodge and cultural site. She called the charges trumped up “bullshit” earlier this month at a new campsite she established at Shell River in northern Minnesota. “They put the sign up while I was sitting inside my lodge,” LaDuke told Truthout about the incident. “They don’t actually need to take [the lodge] down. They don’t because they’re digging way underneath it. But what’s the process? Do they have a conversation?”

In January, five Ojibwe tribes intervened in a Public Utilities Commission decision to exclude the cultural resource survey from the state’s Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), but their appeal was denied in February. Even if tribes found the state’s EIS adequate in terms of protecting Indigenous cultural artifacts, living Indigenous people in the pipeline’s path have faced arrest and persecution for practicing their spiritual and cultural beliefs.

“I’m a live Indian person, not a pot shard,” LaDuke said. “That was my criticism of their EIS. I said, ‘You’re looking for pot shards, but we’re all live.’”

According to an allied Water Protector on the site, Shanai Matteson, Enbridge workers set up pumps on the east side of the river, across from the lodge, and have been pumping water and drilling around the clock this week as law enforcement presence has escalated significantly. A helicopter whirred over the site during the arrests Monday, Matteson says. Aitkin County Sheriff Guida told Truthout that neither his office nor the 16-county Northern Lights Task Force, funded by Enbridge through a public safety escrow account, deployed a helicopter Monday, saying the helicopter could have been a medical chopper or a private flight.

The Northern Lights Task Force deployed a low-flying Department of Homeland Security helicopter against activists protesting in solidarity with two dozen Water Protectors who locked themselves to construction machinery at the Two Inlets pump station earlier this month, blasting them with dirt and rocks. They also blared a sound amplification device called a Long Range Acoustic Device without warning at the site.

The mass direct actions followed the weekend-long Treaty People Gathering, which drew more than 1,500 people to northern Minnesota to fight the 337-mile, $4 billion tar sands pipeline. Escalating law enforcement tactics display more than a year’s worth of training and preparations. According to records obtained by The Intercept, the Northern Lights Task Force “carried out extensive preparations for helicopter and drone operations in the year leading up to [pipeline] construction via a subcommittee dedicated specifically to air operations.”

The Intercept also reports that, at the end of May, Enbridge has reimbursed $1,086,361 to agencies and organizations responding to pipeline protests and public safety issues — including, as Truthout has reported, domestic violence shelters housing survivors who say they were sexually assaulted by Line 3 pipeline workers. The majority of the funds have gone to local sheriffs’ offices, including in Aitkin County, where the treaty struggle over the lodge continues to play out this week.

Other area sheriff’s offices like Beltrami County, which was among the agencies responding to the mass actions earlier this month, are among the top law enforcement agencies reimbursed by Enbridge for “field force” training, gas masks, protective suits, baton stops, security holsters, a megaphone and other gear to “ensure weapon retention for Public Safety Line 3 responses,” according to one invoice.

As tensions escalate across multiple treaty and cultural encampments in northern Minnesota, President Joe Biden’s Justice Department filed a legal brief Wednesday arguing that the Army Corps’s 2020 approval of Line 3 followed its legal obligation to consider the project’s environmental impacts. The briefing is a huge blow to Indigenous and environmental opponents of the pipeline, particularly after another Alberta, Canada-based company, TC Energy, announced the termination of its Keystone XL pipeline this month.

Like Keystone XL, Line 3, if built, would also cross an international border and hundreds of water bodies while locking in dangerous, planet-warming pollution. Indigenous and environmental activists in Minnesota have been fighting Line 3 for nearly as long as activists have been fighting Keystone XL, and call the Line 3 a “Keystone clone,” because it’s also an expansion project that would carry tar sands crude from Alberta to mostly export markets. Both pipeline routes abut tribal reservations. Line 3, however, cuts directly across tribal treaty lands and the Fond du Lac Indian Reservation. (The Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa agreed to allow Enbridge to build the pipeline in 2018.)

“We have the right to stand for our treaty rights. We have the right to stand for our water,” says Red Lake’s Beaulieu. “Today is another sad day of watching them violate our treaties once again, calling our treaty stand an unlawful assembly.”