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Deena Winter
Minnesota Reformer

White Earth Ojibwe activist and former Green Party vice presidential candidate Winona LaDuke was released from jail Thursday after her arrest Monday while protesting construction of an oil pipeline in northern Minnesota.

She and six other women were sitting together praying on an easement and protesting construction of the Enbridge Line 3 oil pipeline near Park Rapids at the Shell River — which the pipeline will cross in five places — when they were arrested for trespassing.

She was transferred late Wednesday to the Aitkin County jail, while the other women were released from the Wadena County jail that day.

“I think this is what you call the Enbridge way — make sure that hundreds of Minnesota citizens are put in jail so that they can steal 5 billion gallons of water and put the last tar sands pipeline in,” LaDuke said in an Instagram post after her release.

Enbridge released a statement to the Reformer saying in part that “Police are responsible for public safety. Officers decide when protesters are breaking the law. Our first priority is the safety of all involved — our workers, men and women in law enforcement and the protestors themselves.”

The statement continued: “As a company, we recognize the rights of individuals and groups to express their views legally and peacefully, but we will not tolerate illegal acts.”

The protests that led to the arrests are just the latest direct action seeking to stop construction of the pipeline, which will replace an existing pipeline the company says is needed for safe transport of oil and rising demand. Local communities and construction trade unions say the 337-mile, $2.9 billion crude oil pipeline is a key source of economic vitality in struggling communities.

So far, more than 500 people have been arrested during protests led by Ojibwe tribes and environmentalists, the activists say. LaDuke is charged with trespassing, harassment, two unlawful assembly misdemeanors and public nuisance and posted a $6,000 bond, according to court documents.

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She alleged corruption in the state Department of Natural Resources, saying it had been “wooed by Enbridge.” Last month, the DNR allowed Enbridge to increase the amount of water it will temporarily displace from aquifers — to make way for construction — from a half a billion gallons to nearly 5 billion gallons. But last week, the DNR suspended some Enbridge water permits due to low streamflow as the state grapples with a drought.

Stay updated on ICT's coverage of Enbridge, "A Pipeline Runs Through It."

LaDuke is executive director and co-founder of Honor the Earth, a Native environmental advocacy organization that was also heavily involved in the 2016 Dakota Access Pipeline protests on the Standing Rock Reservation, which attracted thousands of protesters and survived a North Dakota winter. President Donald Trump immediately reversed the an Obama administration order stopping construction, and the pipeline was built within months.

Enbridge Energy began construction last year to replace and reroute its 1960s-era, leaky, corroded pipeline that stretches across northern Minnesota, carrying oil from Canada to Superior, Wisconsin, for transport to refineries. Capacity of the original Line 3 was halved in 2008 for safety. The project is about 70 percent done, and expected to be complete by year’s end.

White Earth Tribal Attorney Frank Bibeau said in a press release that an Aitkin County warrant was out for LaDuke alleging violations of previous citations related to the pipeline protest. During her arraignment Thursday, Bibeau argued that any charges should be moved to the White Earth Tribal court. The judge did not immediately rule on that.

Canadian tar sands oil is facing another threat, this one financial: More than $13 billion in Canadian oil sands assets may be on the market soon as major oil companies divest from controversial tar sands oil, under pressure to cut emissions and invest in renewable energy, according to an investment report cited by the Calgary Herald.

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This story was originally published by the Minnesota Reformer and republished with permission. 

Deena Winter is a freelance journalist who has covered state and local government in four states over the past three decades.