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Mary Annette Pember
Indian Country Today

Northern Minnesota — Only days after completion of the Line 3 project, there is barely a hint that a nearly 400-mile, $2.6 billion pipeline project, the largest in Enbridge history, crosses the lands in northern Minnesota.

The giant drilling machines and construction equipment that bored into fragile wetlands have departed. The deep trenches and miles of pipe that once marched across the landscape awaiting burial are gone.

A few remaining workers grade the once bustling construction sites, covering grounds newly seeded for grass with chopped hay.

The Line 3 opponents — the water protectors — no longer take actions to stop construction. The Enbridge workers and contractors are mostly gone.

Life in these rural Minnesota counties is back to normal. Or so it seems.

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For many people, however, "normal" no longer exists, especially for the water protectors who chose to oppose the project. Their relationships with life, work, family and the land have changed forever.

The illusion of existing apart from, rather than a part of, natural and social processes have been smashed.

“I’m learning about words and concepts I never heard of before,” said water protector Jason Goward, a citizen of the Fond du Lac Band of Ojibwe who left his job with Enbridge when he realized the project was impacting his ancestral territories.

“I’m connecting with a whole group of people who read through issues and understand them before acting,” he said. “I’ve realized that it’s the overall servitude to capitalism that makes everyone depend on corporations and extractive industries.”

Indian Country Today followed up with water protectors and Line 3 opponents who spoke previously about their activities as part of a series on the Enbridge project, “A pipeline runs through it.”

Goward and Taysha Martineau, also a citizen of the Fond du Lac Band of Ojibwe, found that challenging the Line 3 project put them at odds not only with tribal leadership but also with friends and family.

But their failure to stop Line 3 is emblematic of the uphill battle against powerful fossil fuel corporations in the war against climate change.

As the international United Nations Climate Change Conference, known as COP26, approaches in Glasgow, the eyes of the world are focused on the fossil fuel industry’s failure to address its impact on climate change.

Construction workers grade the finished Enbridge Line 3 pipeline site on the Fond du Lac reservation in Minnesota in October 2021.  (Photo by Mary Annette Pember/Indian Country Today)

For almost 30 years, the UN has been bringing together nearly every country on earth for a global summit to discuss the world’s response to climate change. COP stands for “Conference of the Parties.” The 26th summit and will take place in Glasgow, Scotland, starting Sunday, Oct. 31 and running through Nov. 12.

Indigenous peoples are on the frontlines of climate change but have only recently been included in the COP in an official capacity. The National Congress of the Congress of American Indians announced that its president Fawn Sharp, a citizen of the Quinault Indian Nation, is leading an Indigenous delegation to COP26 to advocate on behalf of tribal nations on climate change issues.

“Every region in Indian Country is being affected by climate change," Sharp told Indian Country Today. "We finally have a seat at the table and we’re going to continue to advance a very clear agenda for Indian Country.” 

Sharp said the delegation will be meeting with the UN Facilitative Working Group of the Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples Platform and several other world leaders at the conference.

According to Sharp, she may be the first NCAI president who has attended a COP conference.

On Oct. 20, the Stockholm Environmental Institute released its 2021 Production Gap Report finding that governments still plan to produce more than double the amount of fossil fuels in 2030 than would be consistent with limiting global warming to 1.5 Centrigrade.

On Oct. 28, the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform held a hearing to examine the industry’s long-running, industry wide campaign to spread disinformation about the role of fossil fuels in causing global warming.

The personal fallout for those who opposed Line 3 serves as a microcosm of the risks involved in taking on powerful, profit-hungry global fossil fuel companies and infrastructure.

The price of participation

After opposing the project for years, the Fond du Lac Band was placed in an untenable position after the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission approved a pipeline route that endangered a greater portion of 1854 treaty territory where tribal members hunt, fish and gather.

The Fond du Lac business committee chose to allow Enbridge to follow its existing route through the reservation in exchange for an undisclosed amount of money and agreed not to publicly oppose the project.

Some Fond du Lac citizens criticized Martineau and Goward’s public opposition to Line 3, accusing them of bringing negative attention to the community and attracting non-Native protestors who engaged in violent tactics such as claims in February that a bomb was thrown into an Enbridge construction site. No bomb was ever found. No arrests relating to the alleged bomb scare have been made to date.

Jason Goward and Taysha Martineau in front of an Enbridge Line 3 worksite on the Fond du lac reservation in 2021. (Photo by Mary Annette Pember, Indian Country Today)

Goward recalls the seminal moment in February in which he realized that working in Line 3 pipeline construction violated his moral compass as an Ojibwe man. His decision to walk off the job that day changed his life forever in ways that continue to surprise him.

Although Goward’s short-term goal to earn enough money to get out of poverty is still very real, he’s come to realize that the price of that goal may be too high.

His subsequent alliance with others opposing Line 3 awakened him to a world beyond himself and connected him to a global community of people who think critically about the impact of reliance on fossil fuels.

Moreover, Gower has been learning about social, racial and economic inequities that connect him with others. He’s learning how to question and challenge a colonial status quo that impoverishes Indigenous and other disenfranchised people.

Personal costs

The experience of opposing Line 3 has broadened Gower and Martineau’s understanding of the connections between reliance on corporate driven fossil fuel extraction and dangers to the environment and problems like sex trafficking and violence against Indigenous women.

Their newly found activism, however, has come at great personal cost.

“Several people were calling for Taysha and me to be banished from the reservation,” Goward said.

He worries that he may not be able to find a good job on the reservation due to his activism and has resigned himself to taking part-time work He is considering returning to school to pursue a degree in engineering.

“I’m kind of exiled personally and professionally,” he said. “There will probably be harsh words exchanged over this for the next 20 years; some people will hold grudges.”

Martineau has also experienced push back from her activities.

As she was being arrested in August for locking herself to Gov. Tim Walz’s fence in St. Paul demanding he take action against Line 3, her youngest child was taken away by police.

According to Martineau, her 2-year-old son was staying at a nearby hotel with designated adult caregivers when police, at the request of the boy’s non-custodial father, convinced them to remove the child.

“It was absolutely terrifying; he was away from me for four days but it felt like an eternity,” she said.

Martineau’s attorney negotiated the child’s return; the case is now in custody court.

“The fact is that Indigenous people often go through this all the time — it’s heartbreaking,” Martineau said.

Native people are up to four times more likely to have their children placed in foster care than non-Native parents.

Life with an arrest record

Gower, Martineau and about 900 others were arrested during actions opposing Line 3.

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Initially, most protesters were charged with misdemeanor offenses such as trespassing and unlawful assembly, but as protests continued, police began charging people with more serious offenses such as gross misdemeanor trespassing as well as felony charges of theft.

Hubbard County Attorney Jonathan Frieden, who is overseeing nearly 500 Line 3 arrest cases, said the felony theft charges involve people who locked themselves to equipment, depriving owners from using the equipment.

“Most of the time, these are either $500,000 or million-dollar pieces of equipment,” Frieden said. “Them not being able to be used for even a short time costs thousands and thousands of dollars in lost revenue or productivity.”

In Aitkin County, Sheriff Dan Guida charged two protesters with a felony charge of aiding an attempted suicide when they refused to leave the pipe into which they had climbed despite being in danger from extreme heat and lack of oxygen. Although no one died, Guida said he believes the charges are justified.

“They were willing to die in that pipe,” he said. “They crawled into the back of a pipe and they put themselves in a situation that was absolutely 100 percent very dangerous.”

Defense attorney Jordan Kushner disputes the charges.

“They jazzed up the complaint in a way that looked like their life was in danger, and therefore they took that to mean that they were trying to help kill themselves,” he said. “Don’t ask me to try to make sense of it.”

Civil rights attorneys say that elevating charges to felonies or gross misdemeanors is an attempt to mute protesters’ First Amendment rights.

“It’s pretty straightforward, they want to scare people away from continuing political resistance against Line 3,” Kushner said. “These actions, such as locking oneself to equipment, are traditional acts of civil disobedience.”

Frieden claims otherwise.

“We looked at what the conduct was and what state statute would be most appropriate for those charges,” he said. “There wasn’t any elevating of offenses.”

Awaiting a court date

The number of legal cases is straining resources in northern Minnesota counties. Many defendants are likely to wait several months until their cases go to court, and they are still waiting to be assigned public defenders.

“Having a gross misdemeanor or felony charge hanging over your head makes many things such as finding a job or housing very difficult,” said defense attorney Pat Handlin, who is representing several of the protestors.

Goward, for instance, was charged with felony theft for locking himself to equipment near the Red Lake treaty camp in August and worries that his already poor job prospects may be bleaker as a result.

Overall, Handlin expressed concern that many of the charging documents in the protesters cases seemed to come from the perspective of Enbridge rather than the taxpayers of the counties.

“Sometimes county attorneys get tunnel vision and forget that they are supposed to act in the taxpayers interest rather than spending all this money on cases that ultimately should be dismissed,” she said.

Pipes lie on the surface waiting to be installed along Enbridge Line 3's route near Park Rapids, Minnesota, on June 6, 2021.

Promised jobs, economic boost

Embridge’s promises of jobs and economic benefits for the region were mostly temporary, according to many residents.

Lynn Mizner, a longtime Aitkin County resident and reporter/columnist for the Aitkin Independent Age, says that while small businesses in the county saw a big surge in business during Line 3 construction, things have mostly returned to the way they were before construction.

“Some people who sold easements to Enbridge made money and were able to pay off their farms,” Mizner told Indian Country Today.

The surge in business, however, was especially welcome during the pandemic. In a Minnesota Public Radio article, Corner Store owner Dave Sheley described Line 3 workers as a “godsend” who showed up at the right time. The Corner Store is located in the town of Backus in Cass County.

Enbridge has predicted that Line 3 communities will benefit from millions of dollars in increased property tax revenue. Overall, however, a short-term economic boom is typical for pipeline projects, according to Louis Johnston, economics professor at the College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University.

“Once it’s built, it’s basically just carrying crude oil through an area,” Johnson tol Minnesota Public Radio. “Unless there’s some maintenance that needs to be done, the local area isn’t going to notice its effects.”

The project created about 4,200 construction-related jobs, about half of which went to out-of-state workers, and created about 20 permanent jobs.

Now that the work is finished­­­ and Enbridge is gone, Mizner worries the real danger is just beginning.

“The water protectors and citizen environmentalists are mostly the ones who watched and monitored the pipeline for frac-outs and accidents,” said Mizner. “We all know that eventually something is going to happen and it may not get reported.”

The way forward

Shanai Matteson plans on staying at Honor the Earth’s water protector camp near the town of Palisade in Aitkin County. Matteson, non-Native, was raised in Palisade and returned to the area to support Indigenous people opposing Line 3.

“It’s not the end of the Line 3 struggle but it is a turning point,” she told Indian Country Today. “The work of resisting these extractive industries coming into communities in this way is ongoing.”

Matteson and others plan on continuing work on getting out the message about a “just transition” that envisions phasing out unsustainable, polluting industries and creating economies based on regenerative jobs.

The “Just Transition” plan was originally generated by members of the Oil, Chemical and Atomic workers union in the U.S. during the 1990s following the release of scientific evidence that fossil fuels played a role in global warming.

Martineau and Goward are pursuing the same goals on the Fond du Lac reservation at Camp Migizi, a parcel of land Martineau bought through crowd-funding as a base for people opposing Line 3.

“We want to show people that there is a better way to live, where we’re free from our fossil fuel addictions, where people can live alongside one another in these communities,” Martineau said. “The community we’ve built here in these woods is proof that we’ve won.”

For Martineau, the experience goes deeper than protesting a pipeline.

“We sacrificed relationships with our own families and our tribe,” she said. “But we believe that stopping Line 3 and the destruction of the fossil fuel industry on Indigenous peoples and lands is in the best interest of everyone globally.”

Unfortunately, however, people can’t see the damage done by Line 3 to the watershed and environment, Mizner said.

“They see grass growing over the construction sites and it’s all going back to normal,” she said. “Something has to happen to people personally before they give it their attention.”

Has it all been worth it?

Mizner, Martineau, Goward and Matteson agree that although Enbridge succeeded in finishing Line 3, the fight against the pipeline was worth it.

As the world gains more awareness about the impact burning fossil fuels plays in climate change, people will need to band together to oppose it, they said.

“A lot of people may be discouraged right now but we saw people pulling together like I’ve never seen before to oppose Line 3; in many ways I think the battles are just starting,” Mizner said.

Martineau agreed.

“Here in northern Minnesota we are showing the world and the next generation it’s important to stand up for what you believe in,” Martineau said.

This article contains material from The Associated Press.

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