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Mary Annette Pember
Indian Country Today

CLEARWATER COUNTY, Minnesota — The Mississippi River, or Great River in the Ojibwe language, is barely three feet in width near its headwaters in northern Minnesota.

Tender and vulnerable, it meanders across the landscape with no hint at its greatness farther south.

It’s here near the river’s headwaters that Enbridge is completing construction on the Line 3 pipeline and its numerous crossings under the river.

And it’s here that hundreds of water protectors and supporters are making a stand Monday opposing the project.

Numerous environmental, faith and Indigenous groups organized the Treaty People Gathering this weekend, describing it as the largest act of resistance so far to the pipeline.

Attendees are encouraged to “put their bodies on the line to stop construction and tell the world that the days of tar sands are over,” according to the Treaty People Gathering website,

Organizers and participants met all weekend on the White Earth Reservation learning about the importance of treaties and the Ojibwe connection to the area, hearing speeches from faith leaders and water protectors and preparing and planning acts of civil disobedience.

During a brief visit to the Treaty People Gathering camp that was closed to the media, Indian Country Today counted about 600 people; it’s unclear how many will participate in actions opposing the pipeline Monday.

Related stories:
— Treaties offer new aid in environmental fights
— Enbridge Line 3 divides Indigenous lands, people
— More water protectors arrested for halting Line 3 work

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Water protectors have expressed concern over local law enforcement’s use of “kettling” tactics to arrest people participating in civil disobedience during past actions.

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)

According to one of the gathering’s organizers who spoke on condition of anonymity, the U.S. Department of Justice sent two liaisons to meet with pipeline opponents to hear their concerns about use of the controversial law enforcement tactic.

The Department of Justice public affairs office did not respond to Indian Country Today’s telephone calls or email seeking comment. Often used during the Black Lives Matter protests, “kettling” involves police corralling protesters and preventing them from leaving before making arrests or issuing citations.

Police used the technique in March 2021 during a water protector action near Grand Rapids, Minnesota.

This month, the Minnesota Court of Appeals is expected to issue a decision regarding the state’s utility regulators 2018 approval of the Enbridge project.

Several opponents including the Minnesota Department of Commerce, several of the state’s Ojibwe tribes and environmentalists have argued in court that a need for the pipeline has not been proven and that it poses significant environmental risks to sensitive areas.

Winona LaDuke, White Earth Ojibwe, executive director of Honor the Earth, conducts a media tour of Enbridge Line 3 construction sites near Park Rapid, Minnesota, on Sunday June 6, 2021. (Photo by Mary Annette Pember, Indian Country Today)

The $2.6 billion Line 3 project – the largest in Enbridge history – is part of the company’s massive oil pipeline system. The largest in North America, Enbridge oil pipeline network sprawls across Canada, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois and Indiana.

Winona LaDuke, citizen of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe and executive director of Honor the Earth, an Indigenous environmental organization based on the White Earth reservation, and others have established a treaty camp along the Shell River near Park Rapids, Minnesota, to draw attention to treaty rights being endangered by Enbridge Line 3. Honor the Earth is one of the organizers of the Treaty People Gathering.

Both the Minnesota treaties of 1837 and 1854 expressly guarantee tribal access to ceded lands in order to hunt, fish and gather. The requirement that state and federal governments protect the environment were upheld in court decisions in 1974 and 2018 in cases from Washington state.

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