RED LAKE CHIPPEWA NATION, MN. – As a National Week of Action to Stop Tar Sands Profiteers came to a close March 23, in the movement to block completion of TransCanada Corp.’s Keystone XL Pipeline, participants in an indigenous encampment in northern Minnesota marked three weeks of continuous protest against another Canadian oil pipeline.
At the encampment located on a tract of Enbridge Energy LP’s route across the Red Lake Chippewa Nation southeast of Leonard, Minnesota, members of the grassroots Nizhawendaamin Indaakiminaan (We Love Our Land) have tended a ceremonial fire round the clock since Feb. 28, in the action to challenge the company’s allegedly illegal easement, to shut down its four pipelines there, and to oppose plans to expand its nearby Alberta Clipper tar-sands crude pipeline.
“Enbridge Energy LP still does not have permission to have these pipelines” more than 60 years after beginning to lay them, said Marty Cobenais, pipeline organizer for Indigenous Environmental Network and a tribal member of the Red Lake Band.
By threatening the local lakes, these pipes endanger the lives and economic livelihood of Red Lake Band members, the non-profit Tar Sands Blockade said in a written statement.
Red Lake Chippewa Nation activist Angie Palacio, said she initiated the encampment “when I was informed about the illegal trespassing of the company Enbridge on my homeland. I knew there was something I could do,” she said. “I started calling as many Red Lakers as I could to try and make them aware.” Activists said some of the oil carried through the pipelines comes from the tar-sands mines of Alberta Province, which cause “blatant environmental destruction” in aboriginal communities.
“The goal is to stand in solidarity not only with our First Nation brothers and sisters in Canada but also to protect our Mother Earth and all of our children and future generations on this earth,” said Tito Ybarra, an enrolled member of the Red Lake Band of Chippewa taking part in the Nizhawendaamin Indaakiminaan action.
Meanwhile, the Tar Sands Blockade speculated, “Now, with a decisively bold move and the backing of large constituencies of Red Lake Band members due to years of local community self-education, Nizhawendaamin Inaakiminaan might well set the first example of a tar-sands line being forced to shut down permanently due to protest after it has been operational!”
Enbridge spokesperson Becky Haase said the company built and has operated the pipelines there since 1949. Contacted by an activist, she said, “We went through all the proper channels, easements, [and] permits.
“Aware of their ownership we are working with the [Red Lake] Band to address these ownership issues,” she added. “We want to achieve a good resolution with them for the band and for Enbridge."
The corporate policy principles state, “Consulting with First Nation and Métis communities in Canada and Native American communities in the United States is an important part of our project planning and development activity.”
Similar encampments, like the Unist’ot’en Camp, have been springing up across the continent to stop destruction of sacred lands in the name fossil fuel production. The Unist'ot'en Camp is a resistance community constructed to protect Wet'suwet'en territory in present-day Vancouver Province from several proposed tar-sands pipelines and other pipelines that originate at hydraulic fracturing projects in the gas fields of the Peace River Region.
Indigenous resistance to tar-sands pipelines in the Minnesota area dates back to 2009 when Enbridge’s Alberta Clipper tar-sands line was laid through Leech Lake and Fond du Lac Anishinaabe reservations. Enbridge is in the process of seeking approval to nearly double the capacity of the Alberta Clipper.
The company gained notoriety in 2010 with the largest inland oil-spill in the United States history, when its Line 6B spilled Alberta tar-sands and its toxic diluent slurry into tributaries of the Kalamazoo River, forcing closure to the public for at least two years. On March 14, 2013, the EPA ordered the company to continue and enhance the cleanup still ongoing.
Leaders from 10 First Nations with territorial claims in the tar-sands and on pipeline routes in Canada and the United States met in Ottawa on March 20 to voice their refusal to accept the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline construction.
Chief Allan Adam of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation in Alberta, Chief Phil Lane Jr. of the Yankton Sioux First Nation, and Chief Rueben George of the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation, located north of Vancouver, were among speakers who drew attention to the movement to, as Lane put it, "stop these pipelines one way or another."
The non-profit Dakota Rural Action said in a news release that “the pipeline has already left a permanent mark on South Dakota’s landowners and political landscape. Despite the renewed attention, the project is still lacking adequate safety measures to protect our land, water, and resources.”
Harding County rancher Bret Clanton, a Dakota Rural Action member, whose land would be crossed by the Keystone XL Pipeline, said the “intrusion into our lives” began seven years ago when the TransCanada Corp.’s contractors began procuring rights-of-way for Keystone XL to cross the state. “We have all signed easements whether we liked it or not due to the fact that they possess the power of condemnation,” he complained.
Culminating activities from coast to coast during the National Week of Action was a 60-person blockade on Chevron refinery property at Salt Lake City, Utah, which turned away six trucks, while warning the company not to bring its tar-sands to this site for processing.
Results of a U.S. opinion poll released March 20, showed that 68 percent of those who voted for President Barack Obama oppose the Keystone XL Pipeline proposal, a two-thirds majority. However, in a straw vote in the U.S. Senate on March 22, five Democrats went over to the Republican side and voted in favor of an amendment encouraging the Obama Administration to approve the permit for the construction to cross the Canada-U.S. border.
Non-profit climate-change 350.org founder Bill McKibben reviewed the week’s activities and responded to North Dakota Republican Sen. John Hoeven’s non-binding amendment, saying, "The fossil fuel industry asked the Senate to approve Keystone XL, but ordinary people around the country pushed back. It's been beautiful to watch people rallying around the continent."
By law, the Administration must decide whether the proposal is in the U.S. “national interest.” The U.S. State Department has twice rejected congressional votes to force executive branch approval.
“Among those who voted for President Barack Obama last year: 68 percent oppose building the pipeline, 76 percent are concerned about its contribution to climate change, and 57 percent believe approval would break the President's State of the Union vow to fight climate change,” said the Center for Biological Diversity, which commissioned the March poll by the Public Policy Polling company.