Mary Annette Pember
Indian Country Today

Two Enbridge workers employed for Line 3 pipeline construction in northern Minnesota were arrested in Beltrami County as part of a sex trafficking sting.

The two were among six men arrested June 26-27 after responding to an ad on a sex advertisement website, the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension authorities said. The suspects were apprehended after showing up at an arranged meeting place.

The bureau worked with the Tribes United Against Sex Trafficking Task Force, the Beltrami County Sheriff’s Office and the Bemidji Police Department in making the arrests, officials said.

Police had not yet filed charges for those arrested. Both men have been fired, according to Juli Kellner, communications specialist for Enbridge.

“On Saturday, June 26, 2021, two individuals working for a subcontractor on the Line 3 Replacement Project were arrested in a sex trafficking sting in Bemidji,” Kellner said in an email to Indian Country Today. “Upon learning of their arrests, the employment of these two individuals was immediately terminated. Enbridge and our contractors have zero tolerance for illegal and exploitative actions. That is why we are joining with our contractors and unions to denounce the illegal and exploitive actions of those who participate in sex trafficking.”

Enbridge was required by state permits to create a human trafficking prevention plan with the help of tribes and Minnesota officials. According to Enbridge officials, workers must attend mandatory human trafficking training.

In this June 29, 2018 photo, tanks stand at the Enbridge Energy terminal in Superior, Wisconsin. Minnesota utility regulators reaffirmed their support Thursday, June 25, 2020, for Enbridge’s plan to replace its aging Line 3 crude oil pipeline. The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission voted 4-1 to reject petitions for reconsideration filed by several Ojibwe bands, environmental groups and the state Commerce Department. (AP Photo/Jim Mone, File)

In February, two Line 3 workers were arrested and charged in another sex trafficking sting in Itasca County. They were also fired.

Minnesota Sen. Mary Kunesh, with the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, said she and other leaders were in a meeting of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women’s Task Force when news of the latest arrests broke.

“I find it ironic that … after the final day of the historical Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women’s Task Force meeting, we receive news of the new arrests in a second sex trafficking sting,” she said.

Related stories:
— Enbridge Line 3 divides Indigenous lands, people
— Treaties offer new aid in environmental fights
— 
Pipe Dream: Enbridge escalates local tensions

Kunesh said officials were warned that the Line 3 project would increase sex trafficking in the region.

The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission held public hearings in 2016 that drew a number of people expressing concerns about the Line 3 project. Those who testified were scoffed at and disrespected in the meeting, she said.

“Enbridge will tout zero tolerance for illegal behavior and terminate their workers — but what do you expect when you flood rural communities with 4,000 men, flush with cash, time on their hands?" Kunesh said.

"They were warned.”

Kunesh, a citizen of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, helped author the bill creating the Office of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relatives in the 2021 Minnesota state legislative session.

Indian Country Today - bridge logo

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

Indian Country Today is a nonprofit news organization. Will you support our work? All of our content is free. There are no subscriptions or costs. And we have hired more Native journalists in the past year than any news organization ─ and with your help we will continue to grow and create career paths for our people. Support Indian Country Today for as little as $10. Sign up for ICT’s free newsletter