Mary Annette Pember
Indian Country Today

Opposition to Enbridge’s Line 3 in northern Minnesota is growing as two water protectors locked themselves together inside one of the pipeline segments, forcing a halt to construction near the city of Backus.

The pair were arrested the morning of Jan. 14 by members of the Cass Lake Sheriff’s Department and face charges of trespassing and obstructing, according to a report by The Associated Press.

Two other demonstrators at the location were also arrested -- a man for refusing to leave the area, and a woman on a charge she violated conditions of a previous arrest.

The Jan. 14 arrests came on the same day the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network International issued a letter calling on President-elect Joe Biden to take executive action to stop Line 3 and the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipeline projects.

“These executive actions will uphold Indigenous rights, align the Biden administration with goals of the Paris Climate Agreement and keep fossil fuels in the ground,” according to the letter.

The organization said the pipelines pose grave threats to Indigenous rights, cultural survival, local waterways and environments, the global climate and public health, including increasing the risk for the spread of COVID-19. Enbridge has indicated it would bring more than 4,000 people from outside Minnesota to work on Line 3.

Dr. Laallitha Surapaneni of Physicians for Social Responsibilities said last month during a digital rally opposing Line 3 that the construction would pose health risks.

“There is no way to safely build a pipeline during a pandemic,” Surapaneni said.

Water protectors locked themselves inside a section of Enbridge's Line 3 pipeline at a construction site near Backus, Minnesota. (Photo courtesy of Ginew Collective)

The Jan. 14 arrests bring to about three dozen the number of water protectors who have been arrested recently while opposing the Line 3 pipeline.

On Jan. 11, about 300 water protectors and Ojibwe jingle-dress dancers gathered near the Mississippi River in Hill City where Enbridge is preparing to drill for the pipeline. Eight water protectors were arrested , jailed and charged with trespassing on critical infrastructure.

In December, 22 people opposing the pipeline were arrested north of Palisade after the Aiken County Sheriff’s office claimed they went into a construction area posted with “no trespassing” signs.

The $2.6 billion Line 3 — the largest project in Enbridge history — will replace an existing 382-mile, 34-inch pipeline with 337 miles of 36-inch pipe that will carry tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada to Superior, Wisconsin. The new pipepline route crosses the Fond du Lac reservation as well as treaty lands of several bands of Ojibwe.

Enbridge finally received its last necessary permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in November and began work replacing the aging Line 3 after six years of regulatory review.

Indigenous, environmental and citizen groups have fiercely opposed Line 3 through lawsuits and regulatory fights throughout the six years, maintaining that pipeline construction will damage and pollute fragile waterways and any leaks or spills would damage wild rice and other ecosystems in the region. Moreover, opponents say that the pipeline represents an antiquated commitment to fossil fuels that contributes to climate change.

On Christmas Eve, the White Earth and Red Lake bands of Ojibwe, the Sierra Club and Honor the Earth filed suit in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. seeking to overturn the permit issued to Enbridge by the Army Corps in November.

In the suit, opponents claim that in making the decision to issue Enbridge a water-quality permit, the Army Corps failed to consider how oil transported in the pipeline could cause environmental risks during a spill.

According to the complaint, although Line 3 is described as a replacement for the existing pipeline, its new route will travel over new terrain.

The court has allowed Enbridge to intervene in the lawsuit. In her Jan. 9 opinion, U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly found that the company has a clear interest in the case’s outcome and that the Army Corps could not fully represent Enbridge’s interests.

Several other environmental, church and business organizations are also joining the opposition to Line 3.

On Jan. 9, the American Birkebeiner or "Birkie" — the largest cross-country ski race in the nation, based in Hayward, Wisconsin — posted a letter on its website announcing it is cancelling Enbridge’s sponsorship agreement.

The organization said in the letter that accepting sponsorship from Enbridge is not in alignment with its green initiatives. The 2021 Birkie is scheduled to take place Feb. 24-28.

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Mary Annette Pember, a citizen of the Red Cliff Ojibwe tribe, is a national correspondent for Indian Country Today.

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