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Mary Annette Pember
Indian Country Today

LaPRAIRIE, Minnesota – More than 100 water protectors marched to observe the 30th anniversary of the largest inland oil spill in the United States, blocking one highway and clashing with teams of law enforcement officers.

At least two people were taken into custody Wednesday afternoon and officers indicated they would write citations to others protesting at the site of the Line 3 spill at LaPrairie, a small town in Itasca County near Grand Rapids in northern Minnesota.

According to Giniw Collective, a camp that has served as a center for some of the water protectors, more than 70 people were issued citations.

The group had gathered to mark the anniversary of the March 3, 1991 spill, which dumped 1.7 million gallons of oil onto the Prairie River, according to activist Winona LaDuke, executive director of Honor the Earth, in a March 3 article she wrote for the Grand Rapids Herald-Review.

Water protectors carry signs opposing Line 3 as they stand on a railroad bridge crossing over Hwy 2. (Photo by Mary Annette Pember)

The Prairie River feeds into the Mississippi River, but a thick layer of ice apparently prevented the oil from moving into the larger river.

“Thankfully, this was back in the days when our territories were still frozen and snow-covered in March, before climate change had fully sunk its teeth,” LaDuke wrote in the article.

The water protectors gathered at Wayside Park and blocked a portion of U.S. Highway 2,  one of the main roadways leading into Grand Rapids.

Water protectors in the wayside parking lot waiting for police to issue citations before being let go. They marched to observe the 30th anniversary of the 1991 spill into the Prairie River on March 3, 2021. (Photo by Mary Annette Pember, Indian Country Today)

LaDuke apparently did not attend the LaPrairie march. Several water protectors were charged with creating a public nuisance. An organizer living at Honor the Earth’s Water protector camp, Shanai Matteson, was also among those cited with creating a public nuisance.

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Minnesota State Police officer T. Ehdinger said everyone involved would be charged with blocking the roadway or creating a public nuisance but he did not release the names of those taken into custody.

Officers stopped traffic on U.S. 2 to write and give citations to water protectors. The water protectors marched to observe the 30th anniversary of the 1991 spill into the Prairie River on March 3, 2021. (Photo by Mary Annette Pember, Indian Country Today)

Line 3 is part of the Enbridge’s Mainline pipeline system, the largest pipeline in North America that sprawls across Canada, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois and Indiana.

The Canadian company is now working on a $2.6 billion project to replace Line 3 to carry tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada, through northern Minnesota and into Superior, Wisconsin. It is the largest project in Enbridge history and has drawn repeated protests and opposition along the nearly 400-mile route.

'Pipe Dream': Enbridge escalates local tensions

Enbridge Line 3 divides Indigenous lands, people

Indigenous, environmental and citizens groups have opposed Line 3 throughout the review process, contending that pipeline construction would damage and pollute fragile waterways and that any future spills would ruin wild rice and other ecosystems in the region.

The project has created growing tensions among local communities in its path, as demands for jobs clash with family and community.

One of the water protectors involved in the march recognizing the anniversary of the Line 3 oil spill walks to the Prairie River to offer prayers as others are cited by police for marching on Hwy 2. (Photo by Mary Annette Pember)

LaPrairie, moreover, is not the only site for a pipeline spill. In 2010, an Enbridge pipeline dumped 840,000 gallons of tar sands into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan.

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The story has been corrected to show the anniversary year to be 30 years. 

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