Issue 12 Editor's Note
October 13, 2021
Indigenous protestors march on the White House on the first day of the People vs. Fossil Fuel demonstration. Photography by Kevin Dietsch.

On October 1, Enbridge Energy’s Line 3 began to pump nearly one million barrels of oil per day, putting pristine waterways at risk and breaking federal land treaties with the Anishinaabe people of present day Minnesota. First proposed in 2014, Indigenous Peoples and climate justice activists have stalled its completion for seven years. Their fight continues against the destructive pipeline that has violated Indigenous rights, land, and waters.

The pipeline replaces Enbridge’s original Line 3 built in 1991, notorious for spilling 1.7 million gallons of crude oil onto the Prairie River—the largest inland oil spill in US history. Its replacement is an exemplar of new, highly destructive fossil infrastructure, and has already proven its true colors. Even before becoming operational, pipeline construction leaked hundreds of gallons of drilling fluid, punctured an aquifer that wasted over 24 million gallons of water when digging a trench larger than permitted, and infringed on environmental law and Indigenous land rights. 

This extensive damage has repercussions not only for local ecosystems, but for Indigenous ways of living as well; the ruptured aquifer, in addition to Enbridge’s water over-appropriation, has resulted in insufficient levels of water for sustaining manoomin, a wild rice at the heart of Anishinaabe tradition. Construction has also violated Indigenous rights to hunt, fish, and gather food in the area.

Resistance to Line 3, primarily lead by Indigenous women and two-spirit people, has been met with oppressive police brutalization and extensive criminalization. On the frontlines, they face off against rubber and pepper bullets, tear gas, excessive use of force, and other methods of “pain compliance.” More than 900 water protectors and activists have been arrested, some facing felony charges. Others reported being denied medical care and being placed in solitary confinement after their arrests. 

In a typical case of regulatory capture, local law enforcement forcefully shut down non-violent acts of resistance—and Enbridge picked up the tab. Using an escrow trust, the Canadian multinational paid $2.4 million in reimbursements for wages, overtime, officer training, surveillance, meals, equipment, and hotels. This financial relationship directly funds the criminalization of protests against fossil fuels. Simone Senogles, member of the Red Lake Nation and leadership team member for the Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN) said, “You wish they were actually there to protect and serve us, and not to protect and serve a pipeline and a company. It’s the antithesis of democracy in my mind.”

Regardless, the resistance continues.  This week, the “People vs. Fossil Fuels” mobilization came to the White House, launching a week-long demonstration organized by Build Back Fossil Free, a coalition of Indigenous, Black, climate justice, youth, and social justice organizations. The movement calls on the Biden administration to halt the pipeline project pending a full federal environmental investigation. Acts of protest against fossil fuel infrastructure are exercises of Indigenous sovereignty, building upon the link between Indigenous efforts to protect the land and the struggle against settler colonialism fueled by industry. 

The action began this past Monday, Indigenous Peoples Day, where over 500 people protested in front of the White House. President Biden campaigned with promises of tribal sovereignty and upholding federal trust and treaty responsibilities, but water protectors and activists have pointed out that the administration’s inaction surrounding Line 3 have proven otherwise. “Biden’s election was riding on climate change, his entire election on people of color, Indigenous people,” said Siqiñiq Maupin, the Executive Director of Sovereign Iñupiat for a Living Arctic, as she rallied outside the White House. “But when it really comes to when it matters, our lives are still being sacrificed for oil and gas.” 

Siqiñiq Maupin raises a fist on Monday’s rally outside the White House. Photograph by Eric Lee.

On October 12, more than 100 Indiginous leaders and supporters delivered one million petitions against Line 3 along with an open letter to President Biden. It references the administration’s public statements on the climate crisis, and demands accountability:

“You have declared a code red climate emergency, stating that “the nation and the world are in peril.” We agree. It is past time to act in accordance with your declaration- you must act now and stop the Line 3 pipeline, or risk irreversible damage to our land, water, and climate.” 
The administration’s recent restoration of two national monuments, a reversal of Trump era efforts to open development on more than 3.2 million acres of sacred Indigenous land, is a step towards respecting the rights of Indigenous peoples, but the Administration cannot have it both ways. We have a chance right now to decolonize our future from fossilized fuels by following Indigenous leadership and transferring power to them, respecting treaties, and promoting Tribal sovereignty. To our leaders: which side are you on?

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