By Brian Ward
The epicenter of the Indigenous and environmental struggle right now has been the fight against Line 3 in northern Minnesota. This pipeline has violated Anishnaabe treaty rights and threatens clean water bringing tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada to Superior, Wisconsin. The struggle against Line 3 is a continuation of the struggle we saw at Standing Rock in 2016 and the 500 years of Indigenous resistance since Europeans invaded Turtle Island. To learn more about how to get involved and brief background on Line 3 please check out A Guide to Joining the Fight Against Line 3 by Jakob Gingrich, Xerxes Minocher, and Rachel Niesen and follow the calls from the frontline at stopline3.org. The Madison DSA and our ecosocialist working group, People’s Green New Deal, have been sending people up to the resistance camps and the large Treaty People’s Gathering throughout the spring and summer. This article is a report and journal from a recent visit the weekend of July 17-18.
We left at the crack of dawn on Saturday, July 17th and knew it would be a quick trip. As we were driving we saw the billboard along the highway near Eau Claire that said “Indianhead Wisconsin” with the northwestern part of Wisconsin in the shape of an “Indianhead”. A motorcyclist drives next to us with a jacket in big bold letters that says “Indian Motorcycles” with an “Indian head” with all the feathers on his motorcycle. A country and culture that erases or relegates Native people to mascots makes it easy to violate treaty rights.
As we entered Minnesota outside of Duluth we drove through the Fond du Lac reservation, which had all it’s signs in Ojibwe and English. Line 3 is set to go directly through their reservation and the Tribe currently has a lawsuit against the state. Enbridge has worked very hard to divide this community.
Once we drove off the reservation we started to see the pipeline construction off the side of the road and yard sign after yard sign that supported Line 3. The divisions that Enbridge has made in these communities is a part of the ongoing conflicts between Natives and non-Natives since the colonization of the area.
When we arrived at the Welcome Water Protectors Camp we met people from all over the country who came to stand against Line 3. This camp is located on the Mississippi river and we quickly found out that the pipeline was drilled under the river a week or two ago despite their best efforts. They described the shaking of the ground underneath them. The camp is thinking through what is next. There are five different camps throughout northern Minnesota that are fighting the pipeline.
We decided to drive two hours west to the Shell River Camp, which runs along the Shell River. Like the other camp this is in the thick northern woods. We were told that this was a regular camp for the Anishinaabe people prior to colonization. You drive up to the camp and you immediately feel the energy, you are welcomed with open arms almost without missing a beat being asked if we needed food and engaging in political conversation.
This camp is one of the many camps and had a large action called “Women for the Rivers” on Thursday, July 15th featuring V (formerly known as Eve Ensler, celebrated writer of the Vagina Monologues) and actress Marisa Tomei.
People had come from as far as California and Colorado to as close as a 20 minutes drive down the road. There were Indigenous and non-Indigenous people, young and old. The feeling of an intergenerational movement is something that has become common in these camps and this movement. The focus and attention on listening and the valuing of all voices has made these spaces welcoming. It was clear that this was an extension of the struggle at Standing Rock. I was at Standing Rock and quickly found out so many others that were also present in the struggle against the Dakota Access Pipeline. Standing Rock was the turning point and many would say, we did not win at Standing Rock, but it grew our movement and raised consciousness.
It was interesting how during the struggle at Standing Rock there was one target (DAPL crossing the Mni Sose also known as the Missouri River) and one central camp for folks to come to, not to mention the geography of the Great Plains being physically open creating an easy target. The struggle against LIne 3 has taken a different approach with multiple camps that are more decentralized and located at different points of the pipeline. Additionally the northern Minnesota woods is a very different environment than the Great Plains. Some camps are more family friendly, some are more direct action oriented but all are fighting the same black snake.
As we got the lay of the land at the camp we were encouraged to canoe about 25 minutes downstream to see where Enbridge is working on drilling underneath the river. Canoeing down the Shell River you could feel the connection to the environment. The water was clear and clam shells were everywhere at the bottom of the river. You could see how this area is sacred and so important to the Anishnaabe. This was 1855 treaty land, where the Anishnaabe signed a treaty with the US government that ceded this area of Minnesota but the Anishnaabe maintained their right to hunt, fish and trap on that ceded territory, Enbridge is threatening this with current and future oil spills.
On the river you could hear the wind blow with the birds singing, contrasted with the drilling Enbridge was doing on a Saturday night getting ready to go under the river. This contrast is the manifestation of the inherent conflict between colonialism and humanity, the non-human world and extractive capitalism, life and death. The river is 25 percent of its normal level because of the water used for irrigation in the area. You can read and understand why a pipeline is wrong but being in that space and seeing it for yourself, building relationships creates a different feeling and sense of urgency.
Spending the night around the fire engaged in conversation is the best feature of the camps. All of the sudden people’s normal inhibitions seem to melt away. You share laughs, engage in discussion and hear tragic stories of erasure and oppression of Indigenous people.
Before we left we got to talk to Honor the Earth’s executive director, Winona LaDuke, who is a citizen of the White Earth Nation. We asked what we can do and she said keep on doing solidarity work in Madison but if you can send bodies to the camps please do because Enbridge is working 24/7 and wants to finish the pipeline by the end of August.
If you have the ability please consider going up to the resistance camps. Here is a great place to start to learn more.
If you can’t please donate to the movement or take local action. People’s Green New Deal, the Madison DSA ecosocialist working group is doing work, please contact us if you are interested in being involved.
We must remember that Line 3 is one of many struggles for Indignous rights. These pipelines that are crisscrossing Turtle Island are a new expression of the same settler colonial, capialististic expansion projects that will continue to attempt to violate treaty rights and displace Native people. Pipelines are the new railroads. This is not an isolated struggle but a struggle against a system that values extraction over human life.