Red Lake Nation News - Babaamaajimowinan (Telling of news in different places)

By Kyle Farris
Bemidji Pioneer 

Red Lake Nation, Enbridge reach $18.5 million agreement, land swap


Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer Enbridge oil pipeline markers dot the land near Leonard, Minn., on Red Lake Reservation land. The Red Lake Nation and Enbridge recently agreed to terms on a financial settlement and land swap.

LEONARD, Minn.-Tall clumps of yellow grass poke out of the snow, and it's hard to tell whether the white blanket covers a swamp or prairie. The mobile home that sits in this clearing looks forgotten, and the most notable thing about this place-about 30 miles northwest of Bemidji and next to nothing in particular-is underground.

Enbridge Inc. is willing to pay the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians $18.5 million for the land, which is about $18.4 million more than anyone would guess. The energy company wants to keep pumping millions of dollars of oil through the four pipelines that were buried in the dirt long before band members knew the land was part of the reservation.

And since Dec. 22, when the Red Lake Tribal Council voted 6-4 to accept $18.5 million and a parcel of land to be named later, some band members have questioned why the reservation would ever agree to sign over land-especially to a corporation-and why the negotiations, which had been dragging on for years, seemed to end all of a sudden.

"This happened overnight, stunned a lot of people," said Floyd "Buck" Jourdain Jr., tribal chairman from 2004 to 2014. "We've done land exchanges before, but not with a corporation, not with a billion-dollar oil company. It was just a farmer who said, 'Heck, I'll give you this piece if you give me that piece.'"

The land is mostly forest and prairie, covering an unknown distance but no more than 24 acres. It's about 16 miles south of the rest of the reservation, crammed between County Road 2 and West Four Legged Lake, underneath which flows an invisible fortune.

Enbridge pipelines 1-4 run quietly from Edmonton, Alta., to Superior, Wis., carrying crude oil across the countryside, 3 feet beneath your shoes.

According to Enbridge, Lakehead Pipeline Co. Inc. installed the pipelines here believing it had permission from the rightful landowner. In the 1980s the reservation realized the land was theirs; Enbridge later absorbed Lakehead and took over the pipelines, and since 2007, the company has been in talks with the reservation about what should happen to the land, the pipelines.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs will need to approve this deal, and until then, Red lake administrators say they don't know when they'll get the money, don't know what exactly they'll do with it.

Both sides say and indicate only formalities remain. A statement from Enbridge spokeswoman Lorraine Little read, in part: "This agreement and land swap will allow both parties to meet our present and future interests in this property. We appreciate Red Lake's leadership and willingness to work with Enbridge to resolve this issue."

A statement from Red Lake read, in part: "The Red Lake Band has had to be creative in the past in how they addressed difficult issues during different times throughout history. ... No Red Lake member or descendent wants to sell our reservation or open it to any outsider. Those values have been clear throughout history."

Calls to Tribal Chairman Darrell G. Seki Sr. were not answered.

Displeasure with the agreement has been fierce, with hundreds commenting on native websites and to native news publications. They say the reservation should have asked for more money, should have done more to protect the environment, should have taken Enbridge to court.

Charles Dolson, Red Lake executive administrator, said the band should have done a better job informing members about the negotiations. If people could see the reservation's side of things, Dolson said most people would probably be fine with the deal.

He said the $18.5 million is far above what Enbridge wanted to pay, far above the land's value.

He said the new money will help the band shrink its own dependence on fossil fuels.

And he said a court battle would have been long and costly, and not a guarantee.

"We'll have no liabilities," Dolson said. "We'll no longer have any relationship with Enbridge."

The band will also get a parcel of land in return, a parcel no smaller than the one it's selling. Members know this but aren't all convinced. They worry a leak in the pipes would ruin the lake and hurt the animals, and in the past they protested the pipelines, camping in the mobile home.

They've had the short end of land agreements before, and giving up a parcel the band has owned for generations doesn't sit well with everyone.

Jourdain, the former chairman, said some people are simply confused. He said they wonder why they didn't know sooner, wonder if the land is gone forever.

"Indians don't sell land," Jourdain said. "You never sell land."


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