Brandon J. Antell Sr., a member of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe, waves a banner in front of the state capitol building during the Treaties Not Tar Sands rally on August 25, 2021. Credit: Ben Hovland | Sahan Journal

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More than 1,000 people rallied outside the Minnesota Capitol on Wednesday against the Enbridge Energy Line 3 oil pipeline that is nearing completion in northern Minnesota. 

Protestors focused on protecting water resources and a diverse coalition of Indigenous, immigrant, and labor activists came together to support treaty rights and make a direct appeal to pull environmental permits on the pipeline, which is about 90 percent complete. 

Even at the 11th hour, those opposed to the pipeline are refusing to give up and are renewing calls on Governor Tim Walz and President Joe Biden to use their executive powers to shut down Line 3 before it starts pumping oil through the state. 

Drums were beaten, songs were sung, and chants of “Water is life!” and “Stop Line 3!” rang out under the hot sun on the Capitol lawn. 

“It’s a beautiful story and we’re still writing it,” said Nancy Beaulieu, an organizer with the climate nonprofit MN350 and co-founder of the Resilient Indigenous Sisters Engaging (RISE) Coalition.

Beaulieu, a member of the Leech Lake Nation, has been active in the fight against Line 3 for years, and said Ojibwe people and their allies will keep showing up until they are heard. Demonstrators erected tipis topped with colorful flags for their rally on the Capitol grounds, which were blocked off with concrete barricades and fences lined with State Troopers. Enbridge expects Line 3 to begin carrying oil by the end of the year, but opponents intend to camp on the Capitol lawn until their demands are met.

Enbridge Energy, a Canadian firm, is building a new Line 3 pipeline that will carry crude oil from Canada’s tar sands through North Dakota and northern Minnesota to the western edge of Lake Superior on the Minnesota-Wisconsin border. The line will replace the old Line 3, which was constructed in the 1960s. Some 337 miles of the pipeline travels through Minnesota, weaving between three Ojibwe reservations and passing through the lands of Fond Du Lac Band of Chippewa before reaching Lake Superior. 

Opponents say the Line 3 project violates the 1855 treaty between the United States and the Ojibwe and threatens waters where wild rice grows. Wild rice, or manoomin, is sacred to the Ojibwe people and a dietary staple. Critics also oppose the construction of a new crude oil pipeline at a time when climate change caused by the burning of fossil fuels is recognized as the largest threat facing the Earth. 

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has cited Enbridge for 28 drilling fluid spills at 12 river crossings this summer. The fluid is used as a lubricant in the drilling process and is mostly made of clay. It is considered non-toxic, but advocates say it can be harmful to aquatic life. 

An Enbridge spokesperson said this week that the project has generated millions in local spending and tax revenues along the construction route that benefits tribal nations, Minnesota Public Radio reported.  

This week the Minnesota Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal from Line 3 opponents, allowing a previous court ruling that approved project construction to stand. The move leaves few legal routes remaining for opponents. 

But the pipeline still could be halted by executive action at the federal or state level. 

Sam Strong, a member of the Red Lake Nation, said society must change the way it interacts with nature. Leaders must be held accountable, he said, and must be pushed to make the right decision. 

“We do have the opportunity to make a difference,” Strong said. 

Hundreds of water protectors gathered at the Minnesota State Capitol to protest the ongoing construction of the Line 3 tar sands pipeline in northern Minnesota. Ben Hovland | Sahan Journal

Many rally attendees have been in the fight for years, and several have spent the summer in camps along the construction route, participating in direct actions against Enbridge that have resulted in arrests. Some walked 256 miles south to the Capitol to raise awareness and show their dedication to opposing the pipeline. 

Others have been following the efforts from afar, contributing funds and offering support. For many, the rally in St. Paul was a chance to stand with Indigenous people in opposition to Line 3. Sharon Chung, a 45-year-old who lives in Minneapolis, has been following the Line 3 project for the past couple years and said she wants to support treaty rights and Ojibwe sovereignty. For her, the rally was a user-friendly way to take part in the protests she’s been supporting.

“I think the awareness is growing, which is great,” Chung said. 

The pipeline is linked to the broader fight for environmental justice in Minnesota and across the nation, opponents say. 

Jigme Ugen, a Tibetan refugee who serves as the vice president of the SEIU Healthcare Minnesota union, delivered an impassioned speech saying all deserve a clean environment and economy in the coming generation. 

“We fight back because as immigrants and people of color, our families and communities are among the most disproportionately affected and hardest hit,” Ugen called out to the crowd. 

Andrew Hazzard covers climate issues for Sahan Journal. He has worked for newspapers in North Dakota, Mississippi and Minnesota. He is member of Society of Environmental Journalists. His work at Sahan...