Mary Annette Pember
Indian Country Today

Three people were arrested Monday at a prayer lodge along the Mississippi River near an Enbridge construction site as questions persist that the pipeline work is worsening water shortages in northern Minnesota.

According to the Aitkin County sheriff’s office, three people were charged with misdemeanor trespass and remained in custody late Tuesday. Police did not release their names.

Meanwhile, a large law enforcement presence remained near the prayer lodge Tuesday, said Shania Mattson, a water protector from Palisade, Minnesota.

The prayer lodge was built by Tania Aubid of the Milles Lacs Band of Ojibwe and Winona LaDuke of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe on 1855 Treaty ceded lands that are guaranteed for use by Ojibwe people for hunting, fishing and gathering, according to LaDuke and Aubid. LaDuke is executive director of Honor the Earth, a Native American environmental advocacy organization.

Officers from various jurisdictions have been escorting Enbridge workers to a nearby construction site that had been under a stop-work order issued in December by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, as well as a cease-and-desist order from the 1855 Treaty Authority claiming that Enbridge pipeline construction near the prayer lodge violates the American Indian Religious Freedom Act.

Winona LaDuke, director of Honor the Earth, an Indigenous environmental advocacy organization, takes journalists on a tour of Enbridge's Line 3 construction sites near Park Rapids, Minnesota on June 7, 2021. (Photo by Mary Annette Pember, Indian Country Today)

Shannon L. Armitage Bauer, chief of public affairs for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers St. Paul District, told the Minneapolis Star Tribune in December that work had ceased in the area.

"A potential historic structure was encountered along one of the spreads adjacent to the Mississippi River and in our permit area,” Bauer said. “Following the procedures outlined in the monitoring and inadvertent discoveries plan, the on-site monitor issued a stop-work order and Enbridge ceased work at this location.”

Bauer added, "We are engaging with the permittee, their consultants, Fond du Lac and other tribes as appropriate on a daily basis to discuss the discovery, answer questions, assess our level of involvement and determine the appropriate course of action."

The St. Paul Army Corps office has not yet responded to questions from Indian Country Today about the status of the December stop-work order.

Juli Kellner, communications specialist for Enbridge said in an email to Indian Country Today that the stop-work order had been lifted.

“Honor the Earth is misrepresenting the status of the land in question, the actions of law enforcement, Enbridge, and debasing the extensive process the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers employed to ensure that Tribal Cultural Properties are not damaged by the replacement of Line 3,” Kellner wrote.

“Work at the site was paused in December as the unanticipated discovery process was implemented,” she said. “Fond du Lac employed tribal cultural experts who walked the full route identifying and recording significant cultural resources to be avoided. Review based on that survey deemed this a recent structure built on DNR property. Based on additional agency coordination and review for an avoidance plan, work on Line 3 was allowed to proceed at the site.”

One land defender was arrested for trespassing at the Red Lake Treaty Camp in northern Minnesota on June 22, 2021 as efforts grow to stop the construction of Enbridge's Line 3 pipeline. (Photo courtesy of Indigenous Environmental Network)

Kellner said water protectors are harassing Enbridge workers.

“We have now started work in this area which requires our inspectors to monitor the site for safety and environmental controls,"Kellner wrote in a June 22 email to Indian Country Today. "These inspectors are being severely harassed and threatened by protesters which is unacceptable.” 

Worsening drought conditions

In Henrietta Township, 31 people were arrested on June 15 for unlawful assembly, public nuisance and disorderly conduct as several water protectors disabled a semi-truck by attaching themselves to the vehicle, according to the Hubbard County sheriff’s department.

The water protectors were issued citations and released from custody.

One person was arrested at the Red Lake Treaty Camp on Tuesday, June 22, by Pennington County sheriff’s deputies. The sheriff’s office did not respond to Indian Country Today’s phone calls about the arrest.

The treaty camp is located north of St. Hillaire near the Red Lake Reservation.

Sasha Beaulieu, official monitor for the Red Lake tribe, said the Pennington County sheriff is trying to evict water protectors from the treaty camp.

Enbridge recently began drilling under the nearby Red Lake River using a process called horizontal drilling, sometimes called trenchless drilling.

Trenchless drilling is used to install pipes underground without disturbing the surface. The process makes use of dewatering, which helps prevent buoyancy problems. The dewatering process lowers the groundwater table and helps keep the construction area dry.

“We don’t consent to this river crossing by Enbridge,” Beaulieu said. “It’s a violation of our 1863 Treaty agreements.”

Many pipeline opponents are concerned about an additional water permit issued by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to Enbridge increasing the company’s amount of dewatering needed from 500 million to 5 billion gallons.

Drought conditions in Minnesota have escalated this year, with much of the state in abnormally dry or moderate drought conditions. According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the northwest quadrant of the state is under very high fire risk.

Pipeline opponents say that Enbridge’s dewatering process will worsen the already dangerous drought conditions.

Opposition continues

Michael Fairbanks, chairman of the White Earth business committee, wrote a letter to the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe asking the organization to present a resolution requesting state agencies to rescind their June 4 permit allowing Enbridge to increase the volume of water used.

Fairbanks said in the letter that displacing the increased amount of water will have a detrimental impact on the 2021 wild rice crop.

“Contractors have been witnessed removing water from Upper Rice Lake and Lower Rice Lake, already at dangerously low levels,” he wrote in the June 18 letter.

The Minnesota Chippewa Tribe did not respond to Indian Country Today about drafting a resolution as requested by Fairbanks.

Gail Nosek, communication director for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, said in an email to Indian Country Today about the water permit that the use of water would have limited impact.

“The DNR is aware of recent social media posts linking this temporary dewatering permit amendment to conditions at Upper and Lower Rice Lakes,” Nosek wrote. “It’s important to clarify that this permit amendment does not allow surface water to be removed from these lakes. The permit amendment is to temporarily appropriate shallow groundwater that infiltrates into construction sites. The water is temporarily stored, treated and discharged onto the ground where it infiltrates back into the ground.”

She continued, “Any localized impacts to natural resources due to temporary lowering of the water table would be short-term and minimal.”

Kellner said in an email to Indian Country Today that Enbridge has never taken water — and wouldn’t — from Upper Rice Lake for Line 3.

“Enbridge pipelines have coexisted with the most productive wild rice waters in Minnesota for 70 years,” she wrote.

Opponents countered, however, that the DNR assumes there will be no impact on water levels simply because Enbridge says so.

“The DNR’s findings did not discuss the rate of groundwater recharge and how long it takes for the discharged water to filter back into the groundwater and restore water balance,” said Natalie Cook, organizing representative of the Sierra Club. “The DNR did not consider the impact on the ecology of sensitive water plants; DNR simply assumed there would be no impacts.”

Line 3 construction is on schedule to be completed and in use by the fourth quarter of the year, Kellner said.

The $2.6 billion Line 3 project – the largest in Enbridge history – is part of the company’s extensive pipeline system, which sprawls across Canada, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois and Indiana. It is designed to replace an existing line to carry tar sands oil from Canada to Wisconsin. 

This is a developing story. 

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