Indigenous activists make progress north of the border


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Same company, different sides of a border.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 05/01/2021 (762 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Same company, different sides of a border.

Last month, the final segment of the Enbridge Line 3 crude oil pipeline replacement project was approved by Minnesota state regulators, with construction starting hours later on its border with North Dakota (where construction finished in October).

The project replaces the existing link between Hardisty, Alta., and Superior, Wis., delivering more than 750,000 barrels of bitumen from the oilsands to the Superior Terminal and transport through the Great Lakes.

Phil Hossack / Winnipeg Free Press Files Geraldine Mcmanus at Spirit of the White Buffalo Camp protesting the Enbridge pipeline at the Canada-U.S. border near Gretna Manitoba June 11, 2019.

It’s the largest pipeline project in Enbridge’s history, coming in at a total cost around $9 billion and covering 1,600 kilometres, quietly achieved without the widescale resistance paid to the Northern Gateway and Coastal GasLink projects.

Line 3 crosses southwestern Manitoba for 350 kilometres, from Cromer to Gretna, almost one-third of its Canadian route.

Canadian construction was approved in 2016, by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government, and completed in 2019.

There was resistance, even if not well-covered by media. Indigenous activists have protested the project since 2018, including the Spirit of the Buffalo prayer camp near Gretna, metres away from the Canada-U.S. border.

Until the camp’s closure after a fire during the COVID-19 pandemic, activists demanded “Enbridge stop building the pipeline because it does not have free, prior and informed consent of all Indigenous peoples along the route, and is a direct violation of the United Nations Declaration of Indigenous Peoples Rights.”

They also called on Enbridge to “remove the current Line 3 pipeline, instead of leaving it to decay in the ground.”

Alongside this resistance came demands by Indigenous leaders for Enbridge to fulfil treaty rights and consult appropriately with First Nations and Métis communities.

This resulted in $27 million in “engagement agreements” (with 98 Indigenous communities along the route), 20 per cent of employees being Indigenous, and a permanent, federal-government-funded “Indigenous advisory and monitoring committee” costing more than $21 million and including representatives across Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

Regardless of how one feels about pipelines, the hard work of activists and amount of Indigenous involvement in Line 3 shows resource projects aren’t impossible.

It’s a different story on the other side of the Canada-U.S. border.

For the most part, Line 3 has been proposed as a “safety” replacement for a faulty and aging pipeline — but not in Minnesota. In that state, the old pipe is being abandoned and an altogether new 500-kilometre route is being built.

The new route crosses roughly 300 kilometres of lands under treaties with the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians, White Earth Band, Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, and the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa (as well as other, affiliated Ojibwa nations).

Activists there say the project will destroy hunting and fishing territories and hundreds of sacred wild rice areas, violating Indigenous cultural and land rights.

“This new route threatens not only the most important and delicate soils, aquifers, and lakes in Minnesota,” White Earth member and activist Winona LaDuke said, “but the Great Lakes, home to one-fifth of the world’s fresh water.”

While Enbridge claims to have an excellent record against pipeline leaks, a simple internet search shows the Calgary-based company has logged 800 spills over the past 20 years, including one of the largest in United States history: 1.2 million gallons of oil into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan in 2010.

LaDuke also pointed out in a talk at the University of Manitoba in November the project is not a safety replacement for Enbridge but a massive upswing in capabilities, “Carrying twice the volume of oil as the previous line.”

This, even though worldwide oil prices have sat near record-lows amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

For weeks, Indigenous and environmental activists have camped on the route, stopped bulldozers, refusing to leave even when threatened with arrest.

In early December 2020, the Mille Lacs Band voiced its opposition to the route and filed a request in court to stop the project. The Red Lake and White Earth bands recently joined it, suing to have the project stopped until all lawsuits are heard.

Construction has continued, ignoring the court issues.

Same company, different sides of a border. I wonder what is the difference?

Niigaan Sinclair

Niigaan Sinclair

Niigaan Sinclair is Anishinaabe and is a columnist at the Winnipeg Free Press.

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