New Faces of Courage

Winona LaDuke

Ava & Angel - Indigenous Peoples Day Clearbrook, MN at the Enbridge Terminal
Ava & Angel - Indigenous Peoples Day Clearbrook, MN at the Enbridge Terminal

Young women are stepping up to protect the water and land of the Anishinaabe.  More and more, young men too.  Oshki Anishinaabeg. This past month, at the Enbridge Line 3 hearing in Duluth, Angel Stevens and Ava Mart stood at the microphone in a packed room, packed by Enbridge, and full of Enbridge employees and union members all wearing royal blue and fluorescent green shirts and jackets. They came to show force and support Enbridge.

In their face, and continuing to speak for water, are the Anishinaabe and thousands, literally thousands of Minnesotans not present in that room. Angel came to the microphone first. She paced and faced the crowd, many of whom were not her friends. “Rice Lake, first week of harvest l50,000 pounds of green rice, that’s who we are, that’s our village,” she told the crowd. “You should come visit our reservation,” she added. Then she talked about the water quality in Rice Lake. “If you run my tap, the water comes out orange, that’s not right.” Angel lives it.  

 That’s kind of the essence of this time -- tribal communities lack basic infrastructure, which is about pipes and big corporations. That’s to say, that American has a D in infrastructure. Villages like those on White Earth have perennial water quality issues, cities like Flint Michigan and a host of others have failing water delivery systems, and Minnesota wants a new oil pipeline.

 Then Ava stood up to talk: “I want to talk about the missing and murdered indigenous women” she said, her voice strong, despite her nervousness.  This pipeline, like the Bakken Oil fields and many extractive industries, is a flashpoint for Native women. After all, in Ft. McMurray -- the source of the tar sands -- the phone book features 10-pages of escorts, including low-cost lovers promising cut-rate service within 20-minutes. Across the north, there are almost 10,000 men living in man camps.

 Now to be clear, Enbridge -- as a part of their permit -- had to submit a Human Trafficking Prevention Plan.  It’s a good four pages of “educate equip... and encourage ... those associated with pipeline construction... to prevent and report any project related to human trafficking…”  They will have a toll-free number to call.  Plus, they will establish a “Public Safety Escrow Trust Account” which will be part of the police and militarization expenses associated with Enbridge’s activities. That’s most likely to be spent not on protecting Native women, but on arresting them -- at least that’s the experience we had at Standing Rock- over 800 arrests.  Ava was on point.

 The Duluth hearing was about a revised environmental impact statement (EIS) prepared essentially by Enbridge for the Public Utilities Commission. An administrative law judge listened to responses. The pro-pipeline groups and Enbridge rented out most of the Duluth Radisson, and Duluth police attempted to keep the eagle staff from the event. No press conferences were allowed in the hotel, so Babbitt Sandman of the Duluth Indian Commission, and others were forced to talk about the EIS outside in the cold.  It was as if it was an Enbridge event. The PUC updated EIS was court-ordered, requiring a review of the impact of an oil spill on Lake Superior.  With most of Enbridge’s data on an upstream creek, sequestered behind a dam, the PUC, not surprisingly found no need for concern. 

 According to its own documents, Enbridge openly admits it can’t build Line 3 and meet all of Minnesota’s water quality standards, given northern Minnesota’s topography and environment (e.g., avoiding wetlands).”  Testimony by a number of community members and scientists noted the complete inadequacy of Enbridge’s newly prepared spill plan, including the limited study of the Little Otter Creek Watershed, the lack of acknowledgement of climate change-related disasters, and no analysis actually of the impact of an oil spill on Lake Superior. 

 Instead, the supplementary EIS points out, in Chapter l0, page l, “the analysis of this chapter cannot predict the impact of a spill”.  Enbridge would like to pressure the PUC to adopt this report as adequate. They are making a big political push for this, complete with a write-in campaign and related “messaging” in expensive advertising. The fact is that the PUC will deem this report adequate, because the PUC has been approving inadequate and wrong permits for the entire scope of the regulatory process on Line 3. Time for more lawsuits.  Meanwhile the White Earth, Red Lake and Mille Lacs bands continue to stand for the water.

 In the meantime, despite negotiations with Enbridge on 50 years of past trespassing, the Red Lake Tribal Council recently reaffirmed its opposition to Line 3, issuing a new statement in late December, underscoring that Red Lake wants to be paid for the last pipeline projects, and does not want a new project.  In a related issue, on December 23, 2019, the Minnesota Court of Appeals told the Public Utilities Commission that they had overstepped their authority, this time in approving a power plant, (Nemadji Trails Energy Center), which would power Enbridge’s pipelines. 

 These lines, after all take about two nuclear power plants worth of juice to send the oil across the north country. The Appeals court ruled that Minnesota indeed had to do an Environmental Assessment Worksheet or EAW (which often later requires an EIS) on this proposed power plant because it would impact Minnesota ecology.  The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission has three times moved to approve big corporate projects, without an Environmental Impact Statement. Three times the court has ruled against them for its failure to prepare an EIS for the proposed Sandpiper crude oil pipeline; its failure to prepare an adequate EIS for Line 3; and now its failure to conduct an environmental review for NTEC.  

 The Court of Appeals decision requiring formal environmental review for NTEC confirms, once again, that Minnesota’s PUC disregards the law.  Rather than follow the law, the PUC makes political decisions that support business-as-usual commitments to expensive fossil fuel infrastructure. There are better, faster, and lower-cost alternatives, including especially clean carbon-free renewable energy and battery storage.  A proper environmental review will give the PUC another chance to listen to the people and protect the environment, rather than give expensive gifts to the fossil fuel industry.

 In the meantime, Enbridge continues its full-on media press, including radio, tv and newsprint, espousing the message that there have been enough hearings on this pipeline and it’s time to move ahead, while neglecting the basic data. In the 60-plus hearings on the proposed Line 3 in the last decade, as well as the regulatory testimony, over 68,000 people came out to testify against the pipeline. Only 3000 or so for the pipeline. Muscles, green shirts and hating aside, Minnesota doesn’t want the Enbridge Line 3.

The Line PR and marketing blitz also extends way beyond the normal channels mentioned previously. You should remember that Enbridge created “Minnesotans for Line 3,” to pretend there was a citizen’s movement that was pro pipeline. They filled yet another meeting room and the hallway with their people with repetitive testimony that the pipeline would provide jobs for them. 

But that June 6, 2019, report released by DeSmog, an investigative journalist project, found that “Minnesotans for Line 3 presents itself as a grassroots organization consisting of “thousands of members.” But, behind the scenes, Enbridge  CEO Al Monaco, along with Cynthia Hansen and John Whelen, both senior executives at Enbridge in Calgary comprised the board members, according to filings at the FCC for the advertising. The only board member of Minnesotans for Line 3 from Minnesota was Bob Schoenberger, formerly of United Pipeline Company, may he rest in peace. The new advisory board consists of business people associated with Enbridge, not surprisingly, Matt Gordon, Abby Louks, Mel Olson and others

All told, Minnesotans for Line 3 was the 10th largest digital ad purchaser among interest groups between November 2018 and April 2019. “…And it has  allegedly engaged in more stealthy tactics as well: At one meeting last year, dozens of young people wearing Minnesotans for Line 3 shirts occupied spots in a line at a state Public Utilities Commission (PUC) hearing on the project at the expense of the project’s opponents – only to disappear shortly after receiving the tickets.”   For many tribal people who traveled from low income communities to participate in the hearing process, this became pretty discouraging. Literally hundreds of people who are actually impacted by this proposal were not allowed to speak at hearings because of Enbridge’s manipulations.

Still, we come and we speak. Those two young women in Duluth, Ava Marks and Angel Stevens, represent the future, and like Greta Thunberg, they will not back down. Facing a sea of haters is not an easy thing to do. But that’s what Angel and Ava did.  We are grateful to them for their courage.  And we are grateful to our supportive neighbors for that as well. 

Ava and Angel and the many opposed to this pipeline don’t want it because of the risk of oil spills, because Enbridge already has six pipelines, because the tar sands is the dirtiest oil in the world, and because the planet is baking.  Lastly but not least, the line represents a severe threat to the Anishinaabe and the honoring and protection of its treaties. At this hearing, the north country came out to speak courageously about our collective future.