Mary Annette Pember
Indian Country Today
SOLWAY, Minnesota – Hundreds of protesters marched to the headwaters of the Mississippi River on Monday, drumming, singing and chanting “Stop Line 3” and “Water is Life” as they demanded a halt to Enbridge’s multibillion-dollar Line 3 pipeline project.
Indigenous water protectors, environmental activists, faith leaders and celebrity supporters moved from site to site along the construction project in what they said was the largest act of civil disobedience yet to stop the pipeline.
South of the Mississippi headwaters, more than 20 protesters were arrested after shutting down an active Line 3 pump station by occupying the site and locking themselves to some of the equipment, according to the Hubbard County sheriff's office.
They were being processed at the jail late Monday but the details of charges were not available.
“Our ancestors made agreements to take care of this water and land forever together, and now is our time to do that,” said 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, in a statement released by the Indigenous Environmental Network.
Protesters also stood firm at the easement along the Mississippi River banks and were "prepared to stay," according to the statement.
Ojibwe women performed a water ceremony at the river.
“We’re going to think about the water while we drink the water,” one woman said as she stood on a bridge spanning the river. “We’re going to look at the water flowing and imagine it flowing through us.”
The protests came on the third day of a convergence called Treaty People Gathering on the White Earth Reservation to protest the construction of Line 3 and inform people about treaty obligations.
At the pump station, Enbridge said 44 workers were evacuated from the site. In a written statement, the company said it “hoped all parties would come to accept the outcome of the thorough, science-based review and multiple approvals of the project.”
"The damage done today by protesters is disheartening," said Enbridge spokeswoman Juli Kellner in a statement. "Our first priority is the safety of all involved."
Hundreds of protesters, however, showed no signs of leaving early Monday evening, and law enforcement officers were directing traffic. Treaty Gathering leaders said wome water protectors were planning to camp overnight at the Enbridge pumping station.
Enbridge has touted the economic benefits of the project, including about 4,000 jobs, and has said it will help the environment by replacing an aging pipeline with a new one.
The Line 3 project – the largest in Enbridge history – is expected to cost more than $7 billion. It is part of the company’s massive oil pipeline system, sprawling across across Canada, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois and Indiana.
Several Ojibwe tribes and environmental groups have opposed the pipeline, arguing in court that the line poses significant environmental risks to sensitive waterways and areas where tribal members hunt, fish and gather food.
The Minnesota treaties of 1837 and 1854 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.
Honor the Earth and other groups set up a camp along the Shell River near Park Rapids, Minnesota, to draw attention to the treaty rights in the area.
Among the celebrities joining the protests were actresses Jane Fonda, Rosanna Arquette and Taylor Schilling ("Orange is the New Black"). Environmental activist Bill McKibben was also there, as was White Earth Chairman Michael Fairbanks. None of them was believed to have been arrested.
This article contains material from The Associated Press.