Tribal nations across Turtle Island have been emboldened by the resistance movement at Standing Rock, and are taking unprecedented actions to protect our lands, waters, sacred places, and treaty rights. In the Great Lakes, Native communities have been fighting for years to shut down old oil pipelines that threaten our territories and to resist Canadian energy company Enbridge’s plans to expand a massive network of pipelines through the region.
The pipelines would cross a large area of lakes and forests in northern Minnesota where treaties give tribes, including my people, the White Earth Ojibwe, the right to hunt, fish, and gather wild rice, our sacred food. Every potential pipeline that would move tar sands or fracked oil to Lake Superior and the other Great Lakes would run through Ojibwe reservations or treaty land.
Over the past month, tribal governments have shown a surge of formal opposition and are asserting their rights to self-determination.
1. As the state of Minnesota prepares its Environmental Impact Statement for the proposed Line 3 oil pipeline, a massive tar sands pipeline proposed through the heart of Anishinaabe treaty territory and some of the biggest wild rice beds in the world, the Minnesota Chippewa tribe is preparing its own Cumulative Impact Assessment. The MCT is the federally recognized tribal government made up of six Ojibwe/Chippewa bands (Bois Forte, Fond du Lac, Grand Portage, Leech Lake, Mille Lacs, and White Earth). A tribal assessment of this scale is a very rare thing in the context of big infrastructure projects. The study is an effort to address profound shortcomings in the range and depth of content in the state’s EIS, especially in its assessment of environmental and cultural impacts specific to tribal communities and repeated denial of requests for formal tribal consultation.
2. The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs are challenging Prime Minister Trudeau’s approval of Enbridge’s Line 3 “replacement” pipeline and pushing for a review of the regulatory process in Canada’s Federal Court of Appeal. Grand Chief Derek Nepinak says the Enbridge Line 3 decision is “founded upon a process that marginalized indigenous voices and legal orders … It is a fundamental step backwards in the renewal of a nation−to−nation relationship … Instead, it stands as an example of another string of broken promises by the Canadian government that damages its relationship with Indigenous Nations and the original peoples.”
3. Also in Minnesota, the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe divested from Wells Fargo due to the bank’s financial support for the Dakota Access pipeline, which band Chief Executive Melanie Benjamin called “unacceptable corporate behavior.” In divesting, Mille Lacs joins an international, Indigenous-led campaign targeting the 17 banks directly invested in the Dakota Access pipeline, in efforts to cut off the project’s funding. Individuals, businesses, philanthropists, and local jurisdictions have pulled out tens of millions from these banks, and direct actions are shutting down operations. The cities of Seattle and Minneapolis and the state of California’s pension funds are all considering divestment from Wells Fargo and other DAPL banks.
4. To the east in Wisconsin, the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa formally terminated Enbridge’s easements for the 64-year-old Line 5 pipeline. Bad River tribal staff have been directed to initiate the process of decommissioning and removing Line 5 from their territory. Enbridge was reportedly taken by surprise by the decision. The Lac Courtes Oreilles Band, also in Wisconsin, have easements for two different pipelines crossing their land up for renewal in 2018 and may follow Bad River’s example .
5. And in Michigan, where the old, crumbling Line 5 runs under the Straits of Mackinac, in between Lake Michigan and Lake Huron, the Sault St. Marie Tribe of Chippewa and the Little Traverse Bay Band of Oddawa have been fighting for years to demand the immediate shutdown of the pipeline in order to avoid catastrophe in the world’s largest freshwater lake system. Line 5 also violates the treaty rights of the 11-member tribes of the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission, a natural resources management agency that protects Ojibwe hunting, fishing, and gathering rights.
Standing Rock was by no means the first tribal nation to stand up and fight back against Big Oil. Much of the groundwork for the movement to stop Dakota Access was laid in the years of intertribal resistance to the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which was stopped in 2015. And in September, more than 50 tribes formed a historic alliance against tar sands expansion that directly targets Enbridge’s Line 3 and Northern Gateway pipelines, TransCanada’s Energy East pipeline, Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain expansion. The Trump administration has now reopened the Keystone XL battle and is trying to push DAPL forward, but the upcoming months promise intense new fronts of conflict as tribal nations are united as never before and taking action.
Winona LaDuke is an internationally renowned writer, speaker, activist, focusing on Indigenous rights, environmental justice, and sustainable tribal economies. She is executive director of Honor The Earth, founder of the White Earth Land Recovery Project, and a former two-time vice presidential candidate. LaDuke is a YES! contributing editor.