Demonstrators converge on Enbridge pipeline construction, dozens arrested

By: - June 8, 2021 12:27 am

Protestors and law enforcement faced off at an Enbridge pump station along the Line 3 replacement route June 7, 2021. Photo by Rilyn Eischens/Minnesota Reformer.

TWO INLETS — Tarah Stangler locked herself to a barricade fashioned from lumber and other building materials as the sun dipped beneath the trees Monday.

Stangler had been outside the pump station run by Canadian oil company Enbridge all day. She was ready to finish the day there too — seated on a coil of material normally used to control erosion, her arm inside a tube that ran through the middle of the makeshift barrier.

“(I’ll be here) as long as it damn takes, or until they take me away,” she said.

Dozens of people were arrested at the pump station north of Park Rapids Monday evening after a day of demonstrations against Enbridge’s Line 3 oil pipeline.

Work on the 337-mile crude oil pipeline started up again this month after a planned hiatus this spring due to seasonal construction restrictions. Water protectors, as people opposed to the pipeline call themselves, aimed to peacefully disrupt construction and to fight for the 19th-century treaties giving Indigenous people the right to hunt, fish and gather on lands and waters that Line 3 will traverse.

Demonstrators came from all over to northern Minnesota to oppose further construction of the pipeline, which if completed would carry nearly 32 million gallons of crude oil each day from Hardisty, Alberta, to Superior, Wisconsin. Photo by Rilyn Eischens/Minnesota Reformer.

More than 2,000 people from across the United States traveled to northern Minnesota for the protests. In addition to occupying the pump station, demonstrators marched to one of the pipeline’s Mississippi River crossings, where activists planned to camp overnight.

There were no workers at the Mississippi site. An Enbridge spokesperson told the Reformer the company had to evacuate 44 people from the pump station — a large area with equipment that keeps oil flowing through the pipe — after demonstrators arrived Monday morning.

“The damage done today by protesters is disheartening. We respect everyone’s right to peacefully and lawfully protest, but trespass, intimidation, and destruction are unacceptable. Our first priority is the safety of all involved,” the spokesperson said. “To date protests, including today’s, have had relatively little impact on the project’s construction schedule which is on track.”

The dirt road leading to the pump station was littered with piles of branches and electrical wire spools midafternoon after protesters used construction materials to erect barricades throughout the site, including one built from plywood and barbed wire at the entrance to the fenced-in station yard.

People willing to risk arrest sat on and around excavators and electric boom lifts inside the station, napping in the shade as temperatures surpassed 90 degrees. Others carried hardware out of open shipping containers and lugged plywood across the sand. Signs reading “Honor the Treaties” and “Stop Line 3” waved from machinery and dirt piles. There was no visible law enforcement presence at the station throughout the afternoon.

Kiakiali Bordner, a minister, sat under a tent against a boom lift Monday afternoon. She said she traveled from San Diego with a group of Unitarian Universalists to support her fellow Indigenous people — and to stop the project. Raising awareness isn’t enough, Bordner said.

Indigenous activists play on hand drums and sing protesting construction of a new Line 3 oil pipeline in northern Minnesota. Photo by Rilyn Eischens/Minnesota Reformer.

Bordner said she doesn’t want her grandchildren to fight the same issues she’s fighting now, like climate change and treaty violations. She’s willing to be arrested for the cause now that her children are adults, she said.

“It’s all related: Me, you, the swallows whose homes have been disturbed, the dragonflies and butterflies looking for their meadow that used to exist (here),” Bordner said. “The water is the blood of this planet, the blood of all of us.”

The grounds around the pump station were quiet Monday afternoon as sun-weary demonstrators slept under pine trees off Highway 71, but organizers moved to action as word spread that law enforcement was on the way.

Three school buses kicked up dust along the metal fence as they arrived around 4:30 p.m. with deputies and officers from multiple sheriffs’ offices, the Moorhead Police Department and the State Patrol clad in helmets and carrying batons. One man was arrested shortly after they arrived.

Roughly 50 demonstrators confronted the officers as they formed a line outside the entrance to the pump station. Within an hour, law enforcement cleared the protestors’ makeshift barricade, drove in a forklift and closed the gate with an unknown number of demonstrators still inside. Several of them were arrested throughout the evening.

Brief scuffles broke out when demonstrators rushed forward to push the police line toward the gate, but officers otherwise engaged little with the group. The crowd grew to more than 100 as the standoff between officers guarding the station and protesters maintaining the path and lot outside it went on for hours. As darkness fell, chants of “water is life” and “we see you, we love you, we will get justice for you” — which demonstrators shouted earlier in the day when they could see people being arrested inside the station — were audible from the highway.

The Enbridge pumping station where demonstrators chained themselves and law enforcement made arrests. Photo by Rilyn Eischens/Minnesota Reformer.

The demonstrators are fighting the project’s rapid momentum: Line 3 is set to be completed by the end of the year, following six years of state review, permitting and litigation. The project will cost roughly $2.9 billion and carry nearly 32 million gallons of crude oil each day from Hardisty, Alberta, to Superior, Wisconsin.

Enbridge and pipeline supporters say the new line is necessary to replace the existing Line 3 — which was built in the 1960s and requires more upkeep each year — and to meet demand for oil. The project has also created jobs for roughly 5,000 welders, equipment operators and laborers.

Opponents say the pipeline will eventually leak and contaminate Minnesota’s forests and waters with crude oil. The cultural significance of these lands and the wild rice beds near the pipeline makes the risk intolerable for Indigenous people. The project violates their treaty rights, they say, another injustice in the state’s long history of mistreating Native Americans.

Since December, people opposed to the pipeline have gathered along the route across northern Minnesota, some living at camps dedicated to organizing against the project full-time. At the Mississippi River site Monday morning, Indigenous advocates led nearly 2,000 people down Highway 9 from a canoe launch to the pipeline crossing. Hundreds of dragonflies zoomed overhead. Yellow swallowtail butterflies drifted through the brush beside the highway as advocates sang, “We will stop Line 3. The people and the water will flow free.”

They stopped near a bridge, where the Mississippi River — a shallow, narrow stretch just 12 miles from the headwaters — flowed across weed beds underneath. A few hundred yards away, blocks of lumber cut through the expanse of marsh and pine trees to create a platform for Enbridge to truck out pipeline equipment.

People hiked through the marsh to the Mississippi River, where they made offerings. Photo by Rilyn Eischens/Minnesota Reformer.

About 150 people hiked through the marsh, stepping over tall grasses and squishing through puddles, to reach the platform. Indigenous leaders led a prayer and allowed people to present offerings to the river before setting up camp. Advocates said in a news release Monday evening that they would stay for at least four days.

“This is about more than a pipeline. It’s about our treaties, and our right to exist. We were the first people. So we want you to honor those treaties by living as good neighbors,” Indigenous advocate and MN350 organizer Nancy Beaulieu told the group. “We welcome you to our homelands here.”

As people climbed into the river for the offering, Loretta Boldin, a member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee in North Carolina, sat on the edge of the lumber platform with her feet dangling over the grasses.

After driving most of the way from North Carolina to arrive early that morning, walking down the road and hiking across the marsh as the temperatures soared, she was tired — but still glad to be showing support.

“We’re all fighting for treaty rights and water rights,” she said. “Everything that’s going on here, every Indigenous tribe is (facing) too. We try to stick together.”

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Rilyn Eischens
Rilyn Eischens

Rilyn Eischens is a data reporter with the Reformer. Rilyn is a Minnesota native and has worked in newsrooms in the Twin Cities, Iowa, Texas and most recently Virginia, where she covered education for The Staunton News Leader. She's an alumna of the Dow Jones News Fund data journalism program and the Minnesota Daily. When Rilyn isn't in the newsroom, she likes to read, add to her plant collection and try new recipes.