A protest camp resembling the early days of Standing Rock has sprung up in Minnesota with the goal of stopping the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline, a new project that would triple the capacity of an existing pipeline from the Alberta oil sands into the U.S.
Enbridge Inc., based in Calgary, Alberta, says it is simply replacing and upgrading an existing aging pipeline built in the 1960s, but activists point out that the new project will allow the company to move 760,000 barrels of oil per day, up from its current 390,000 barrels a day.
Makwa Camp started in August on an Indigenous reservation outside of Duluth and has grown in recent weeks amid nearby regulatory hearings over the Line 3 pipeline, running from Alberta across the Prairies to the shores of Lake Superior in Wisconsin. With the pipeline expansion approved in Canada, North Dakota and Wisconsin, Minnesota’s backing is all it needs to proceed, so that’s where activists are staging their resistance. It is not known exactly how many people are staying in Makwa Camp but local media estimates are in the hundreds.
Wisconsin, too, has seen opposition. In August, six people were arrested in that state after they locked themselves to pipeline construction equipment.
Opponents, who call themselves water protectors, say the pipeline will inevitably leak, threatening the land and water, while supporters say the project will bring jobs and prosperity.
In a series of hearings, the Public Utility Commission, a state regulator, is reviewing whether the project is needed. The commission is expected to release its decision to approve or reject the project in April.
The public hearings have been tense so far. A video of the hearings posted on the Makwa Camp Facebook group showed security telling Indigenous people they could not drum inside the building. At one point security would not let Indigenous people into the meeting, before relenting moments later.
Inside the meeting room, a white man in denim overalls, who was testifying at the hearings, stood up, raised his fists over his head and yelled, “God bless the pipeline and God bless America!” But when an Indigenous woman was told she couldn’t testify, cries of “let us speak!” broke out from pipeline opponents. One protester grabbed the mic. Then they began drumming and singing, with fists raised in the air, shutting down the meeting.
Indigenous resistance along the pipeline route in Canada is growing, too. Activists in Manitoba are planning to drive along the pipeline route the weekend of Nov. 6 in an attempt to convince farmers to revoke their consent for the pipeline to cross their fields. And the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs is fighting the pipeline’s approval in court.
‘Human right to water’
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau approved the Line 3 renewal project nearly a year ago. This summer, Enbridge started construction on the project in Canada and Wisconsin, where it has the permits to proceed. Pending regulatory approvals, the company says the pipeline will start operating in 2019.
Water protectors are camping on the Fond Du Lac reservation, outside Duluth, Minnesota. Makwa Camp (makwa means bear) is soliciting donations for their legal fund and supplies to keep them going through the winter.
“A lot of the people here are from Standing Rock, and learned a lot about what happens when people stand together, and the power of that, and the creation of a global movement,” says Tara Zhaabowekwe Houska
Makwa Initiative declined an interview with VICE News, saying they want to focus on actions for now. Videos posted on their Facebook page show a peaceful camp featuring tents, teepees, yurts, solar panels and signs stating “water is life,” a traditional teaching that gained wide attention last year thanks to the Standing Rock protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline. Makwa Initiative says the Line 3 pipeline runs through Minnesota Ojibwe treaty territory, threatening the wetlands and lakes, traditional hunting and fishing, water supply and wild rice.
“We are fighting a billion dollar corporation for our human right to water,” a video on the camp’s Facebook group states.
Another video shows Ladonna Brave Bull Allard, who started the Standing Rock camp in spring 2016, visiting protectors at Makwa Camp.
“We have to help each other,” she tells them. “We have to be all in this together. Because it’s not about this group or that group or this group — it’s about everybody.”
One year ago, Standing Rock swelled to an estimated 10,000 people.
“A lot of the people here are from Standing Rock, and learned a lot about what happens when people stand together, and the power of that, and the creation of a global movement,” says Tara Zhaabowekwe Houska in a Makwa Camp video.
The National Campaigns Director of Indigenous-led environmental organization Honour the Earth, who is from Minnesota, has been staying in the camp and spoke to VICE News from Duluth.
With the pipeline approved in Canada and Wisconsin, Zhaabowekwe Houska said everything rests on Minnesota right now. Unlike the Dakota Access Pipeline, which needed federal approval, this pipeline only needs approval at the state level. Although the pipeline spans the U.S. and Canada, Enbridge successfully argued it was a maintenance project, which meant it could dodge the need for federal approval.
“So there is no Donald Trump weighing in or anything like that,” Zhaabowekwe Houska said. “This is entirely the state of Minnesota deciding this.”
Meanwhile in Manitoba, Indigenous activists are using very different strategies to oppose already-approved Line 3. Sadie-Phoenix Lavoie, an activist originally from Sagkeeng First Nation in Manitoba, plans to drive along the pipeline’s route to talk with farmers who have consented for the pipeline to cross their fields.
“We plan to speak to them respectfully and hear them out, and then offer them some suggestions when it comes to protecting their farmland and understanding of the broader issue on pipelines, including the science on climate change,” she told VICE News. She hopes to convince them of the economic benefits of renewables, she added.
“Every pipeline leaks, it’s just a matter of how much,” said activist Sadie-Phoenix Lavoie
“Every pipeline leaks, it’s just a matter of how much,” she continued. “I’m not willing to take that risk. A lot of Manitobans aren’t willing to take that risk.” Sadie-Phoenix Lavoie
In Canada, the pipeline project was approved “based on facts, evidence and what was in the national interest,” natural resources minister Jim Carr’s office said in a statement to VICE News. Although the National Energy Board, a government regulator, is responsible for reviewing projects, Carr’s office and the government of the day has the final say.
“The project is subject to 37 legally-binding conditions designed to ensure the project is built and operated in the safest and most sustainable way possible.”
Without responding to questions about Makwa camp directly, Carr’s office said, “The right to peaceful protest lays at the foundation of our rights and freedoms and our government respects that right.”
Enbridge told VICE news it “recognizes the rights of individuals and groups to express their views legally and peacefully. We continue to work through the regulatory process that has focussed on thorough environment evaluation, with full-fledged public participation.”