BEMIDJI – Just over a snowbank in rural Clearwater County, four orange posts stick out of the ground.
They mark where four Enbridge pipelines transporting crude oil sit underground. But they also mark a point of protest for those sitting around a campfire on the other side of the snowbank.
Those protesters, some American Indian and some not, oppose the pipelines’ existence under Red Lake reservation lands, which they say is illegal. Since Thursday, they’ve camped in a plowed-out area above the pipelines off of County Road 2, braving the snow that was coming their way Monday night.
“If you had a house and someone came squatting in your house, how’d you feel about that?” said Marty Cobenais, a Red Lake Nation member and an office manager at the Indigenous Environmental Network. He said the pipelines sit under about 8.5 acres of reservation land.
Angie Talazio, the protest’s organizer, said she’s also hopeful the demonstration will slow down the production of tar sands in Canada. She said chemicals used to produce the tar sands have been known to cause health problems for nearby residents.
She said the company had to shut down the pipeline for safety reasons if they camped there for more than 72 hours.
Becky Haas, an Enbridge spokeswoman, said in an email that “Enbridge has no objections to the activities of these individuals” if there is no danger to the pipelines.
She said the four pipelines, built in 1949, 1958, 1962 and 1972 respectively, run from Edmonton, Alberta, to Superior, Wis.
“Enbridge went through the proper channels to acquire easements, permit, construct and operate the pipelines on this parcel of land, the first of which was constructed in 1949,” Haase wrote in an email. “Our pipelines were installed based on recorded real estate records.”
“We have made several good faith efforts to address the ownership issues with the Red Lake Band, and we will continue to work with the Band to achieve an amicable resolution.”
Red Lake Tribal Chairman Floyd Jourdain Jr. said in an email that the protest is not sanctioned by Red Lake Nation.
“This issue is nothing new, and the Red Lake Band has known about this trespass for many years,” Jourdain wrote. “We have had talks with Enbridge but nothing meaningful came of those talks so the Red Lake Band ordered them to vacate tribal lands, and move their lines.”
Cobenais said he’s hopeful the pipeline will be moved off reservation land, but he’s hoping the protest will at least open up more dialogue between the company and the Red Lake Tribal Council.
“If we can help the tribal council getting that to happen sooner rather than later, and get Enbridge to listen, then we’re there,” Cobenais said.