- The Farm
- The Alliance
Over 2000 people gathered in northern Minnesota June 5-8 to protect land, water, and treaty rights against Enbridge Energy’s Line 3. Over 200 of us were arrested in the process, and hundreds stayed at Camp Fire Light, at the place where Enbridge plans to drill under the Mississippi River near its very beginning. Now the center of action is at Red Lake Treaty Camp, where drilling seems imminent.
The most important thing I have to offer here is comments on the importance of treaty rights, a paradigm-changing teaching from attorneys Frank Bibeau and Joe Plumer. I’ll follow that with a brief outline from the Treaty People Gathering, action steps, a personal report from a friend who risked arrest, and a million links if you want to go farther. For background information, you can read the first two paragraphs on each of these: https://www.stopline3.org/issues/ and https://www.stopline3.org/chronicles
It’s important to understand treaty rights and what they mean. The bold comments are direct statements from Frank and Joe in the Sunday morning training.
We have to understand current events in terms of the treaties.
They said it so clearly that I finally understood.
Those treaties were made between the ancestors of indigenous people and the ancestors of the white people.
Even though my personal ancestors arrived much later, I too am a treaty person.
We are all governed by the many treaties made on this land, by our mutual ancestors. This is a shared history, white and indigenous, and it binds us together.
The whites did not understand the indigenous relationship with the land. They assumed that tribes owned land, and could sign it over.
Right off this tells you something was wrong with them. Owning land? Well, they also thought they could own people. Now they pretend not to own people, and they are very confused when we talk about land as a being with its own rights, its own existence, as everyone used to know.
Whites also did not seem to understand the meaning of a treaty. In a treaty, the two parties are separate and remain separate. Neither acquires the right to dominate the other. Another problem is the white understanding that the only thing reliable is what’s on paper, even though they were making agreements with people who had no history of writing and sometimes did not speak English. One such treaty is expressed in a wampum belt, showing two bands extending side by side, never crossing over, separate and equal. This is how treaties are.
For many decades, whites didn’t even honor their own version of the treaties, reneging on promises such as food and supplies, leading to disputes such as the Dakota War of 1862. The current dis-honoring involves the right to hunt, fish, and gather – what good are those rights if the waters are poisoned, the fish dead, the forests paved? No tribe agreed to have its lands destroyed.
Treaties are the supreme law of the land, above the Constitution. They cannot be changed without agreement of both parties.
If a bully can make an agreement and ignore it, there is no international law, no community of respect, and no protection against the force of the strongest weapon in the hands of the most brutal invader. Respecting treaties is essential.
For those who want to go deeper, this link has a detailed discussion of treaties in the Great Lakes area, rights, history, and common misunderstandings: http://glifwc.org/publications/pdf/2018TreatyRights.pdf
As I listen to the attorneys talk about treaty rights, I sense something going on that I can’t quite name. It feels like being on the edge of a cliff, needing just a slight push to go over. After – the right to mine, drill, and destroy ends, and the power of bullies gives way to the power of relationship. Human communities and inter-species communities are able to make our way.
Frank Bibeau says, “Every time Line 3 gets closer to happening, it pushes our treaty rights closer to the front, and now we’ve gotten to that place with the litigation starting with the Corps of Engineers.” (https://grist.org/food/line-3-pipeline-protests-enbridge-wild-rice-treaty-rights/ )
The matter of indigenous people being arrested for trespassing – on land that was stolen from their ancestors historically, that is supposed to be public land, and that was turned over to a private corporation with only token concern for the damage they will do – it shows how everything is wrong-side-up. The matter of using helicopter and sonic booms (can cause permanent physical and mental damage)
We stand at a turning point in history. And the whole world is watching. (The international press was visibly present.)
And now some stories from that weekend and after.
Most of us arrived Saturday, either at the main camp or the MNIPL camp (Minnesota Interfaith Power and Light). The main camp had a welcoming ceremony Saturday afternoon, while at the MNIPL camp a dozen people were making signs and others helped us all find our cabins or tent spots. After a Gandhi Mahal dinner we (MNIPL) gathered on the beach for talks, prayer circle, and an end-the-Sabbath ceremony.
Sunday was a long day of training at the main camp – and was hot, dry, and more hot.
We were divided into three groups: red, yellow, and green. Red meant you planned to get arrested. Yellow meant willing to be arrested. Green meant staying as safe as possible, understanding there are no guarantees. After the morning speakers, each group received its own training.
Very early on Monday, about half of us went to the pumping station. That’s described in Ann’s report below. MNIPL hosted a prayer circle at a different location, then most of us went on to the bridge – the main action spot, a road crossing of the tiny Mississippi. The red group headed for the planned pipeline crossing (near Mississipi headwaters) and stayed there. The yellow group chalked on the bridge: “President Biden, Honor the Treaties, Stop Line 3.” The green group marched, chanted, listened to speakers, chanted some more, and waited for news. It was hot. Teams brought water and snacks.
Mid-afternoon the leaders announced that we had no arrests here, and that work was stopped at the pumping station for a whole day. The red group began building Camp Fire Light. The rest of us dispersed – many to take a dip in the Mississippi Headwaters at Lake Itasca. Back at camp, we relaxed, recovered, heard of the first hundred arrests, and eventually had a closing circle. Night brought the gift of a cooling thunderstorm.
From Monday to Monday was a long ceremony at Camp Fire Light. Then, Sheriff Darin Halverson came to carry out Enbridge’s eviction notice. After peaceful negotiations, the protestors left as a procession with drums and singing. Here’s a writing about that from Tuesday night:
from Neo Gabo Benais: “The right to have ceremony under the treaties protection was honored by a county sheriff… The Northern lights task force [coordinated police response to protests]… was quick to mobilize and try to take over the easement but the sheriff held them off for 3 days. …the sheriff honored our treaties and let us have ceremony and leave in peace with zero arrests…. we ended up with 50 people choosing citations to fight for our treaties as we demand to be seen in federal court. Now that’s how you fight the black snake, together. Everyone left this action energized and not traumatized. Everyone is waiting for the next one. Howah!!!! Miigwech!!!”
Also Monday, June 15, a court decided in favor of Enbridge continuing to build. The dissent from Judge Reyes was priceless:
‘This case is about substitution. Substituting supply for demand. Substituting ‘shippers’ for ‘refineries.’ Substituting ‘pipeline capacity’ for ‘crude oil.’ Substituting conclusory, unsupported demand assumptions for reviewable ‘long-range energy demand forecasts.’ And substituting an agency’s will for its judgment.’
I’ll end this with a first-person account from the action at the pumping station. Ann Schulman writes about her own experience.
Dozens of people had been in the field all morning, dragging logs, dead trees, and rocks, onto the road and digging ditches. About eight of us, mostly Seniors, were sitting on a slab of concrete thirty yards away and drinking water in the shade of some metal structure. It was hot, over 90 degrees and none of us were inclined towards heavy lifting.
A helicopter, somebody said that it was ICE (probably so), had been flying over the area for a while and kicking up a lot of dust. After a time, people had trickled away from the field. Not everyone. Three people (that I could see) were still in it when the helicopter began a vertical decent directly onto their heads. I panicked. Didn’t the pilot see that there were people underneath him? How could he be landing? It wasn’t an empty field! I stood up and saw two figures run off to the right, somebody said that it was a woman and a girl. But a male figure disappeared in a cloud of dust beneath the helicopter. Where was he? I fought the sand and dirt blowing into my face to keep my eyes on the disappeared person. After three or four brutal seconds, a running figure darted from the haze with a helicopter a body length from the top of his head.
As I watched this person run, I remembered an image from the movie The Fog of War. Only this wasn’t a war, or a war zone. It was a peaceful protest with over a thousand civilians at the Enbridge pump house site.
My friends shook their heads in disgust. They had had enough. Machines flying into human beings, who are protecting the water through peaceful protest was way more than they wanted to see. I was too frozen inside from what had happened to notice that it was time for me to go too. My eyes had become irritated and swollen and had begun to water. And water. And water.
The next day my friends drove my car the four hours back to St. Paul, while I scheduled an emergency appointment. The closest eye clinic that could see me on such short notice was another forty-five minutes away.
The doctor asked how the dust and sand had blown into my face. I said, “It was a helicopter.” She stared for a second, not quite comprehending. “You got too close to a helicopter?” she asked. “No,” I answered. “A helicopter got too close to me. “ I added. “It was a Line 3 protest.”
She remained silent, turned her back, and typed into the computer.
Maybe she knew how dirty tar sands are. Maybe she understood about Tribal Sovereignty and genocide and wild rice, maybe she knew that the modified pipeline would cross under the headlands of the Mississippi twice, under twenty two rivers, and over two hundred bodies of water on indigenous land before arriving on the shore of Lake Superior. Probably she understood that spills happen regularly from these pipelines and the Great Lakes and world might not recover. Maybe the silence that I found deafening was actually compliance with a clinic rule about not getting involved?
“Its irritation, not abrasion,” she said after the exam. “Use water drops four times a day.”
Water. Healing. Helicopters.
Water is Life.