From near and far: Meet the ‘water protectors’ protesting Enbridge’s Line 3

By: - June 10, 2021 7:00 am

People opposed to Enbridge’s Line 3 pipeline trekked through a marsh to a site where the pipeline will cross the Mississippi River on June 7, 2021. Photo by Rilyn Eischens/Minnesota Reformer.

People opposed to Enbridge’s Line 3 in northern Minnesota remained camped out at one of the pipeline’s Mississippi River crossings for the third day Wednesday.

The encampment was set up Monday as part of a three-day event called the Treaty People Gathering, intended to peacefully disrupt construction of the pipeline 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. Work on the 337-mile crude oil pipeline started up again this month after a planned hiatus this spring due to seasonal construction restrictions.

The crowd was smaller by Wednesday, but many were prepared to remain as long as Indigenous leaders called them to. The camp was calm and quiet even as the 90-degree heat gave way to a windstorm.

Unless stopped by litigation or a surprise reversal by state or federal government, Line 3 is set to be completed by the end of the year. 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 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.

Some people staying at the encampment or participating in demonstrations against the pipeline talked with the Reformer about their experiences. Responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Dawn Goodwin, a member of the Mississippi Band of Ojibwe and co-founder of Indigenous advocacy group RISE Coalition, poses for a photo on June 9, 2021. Photo by Rilyn Eischens/Minnesota Reformer.

Dawn Goodwin

Member of the White Earth Nation and co-founder of the Indigenous advocacy group RISE Coalition, which led the rally Monday.

I’m calling on President Joe Biden to uphold our treaties because they are the supreme law of the land. I am calling upon him to make a decision to lead in the protection of water and mahnomen — wild rice — the sacred gift from the Creator. That sacred gift brought us, the Anishinaabe, from the east coast hundreds and hundreds of years ago, to right where we are. We were told to go where food grew out of the water.

When we had our rally Monday, my sister’s goal was to get out here and at least get her tobacco in the water. She didn’t know if it was going to happen or not. When we got here, we gathered on this bridge, and we had a ceremony and danced, laughed and sang with each other. That was a victory, just to get here.

My sister turned around and she said, “We have to be here for four days. Grandma didn’t close that ceremony. It’s still open.” So we knew we needed to continue. Since then, there has been another ceremony, the lighting of the sacred fire last night. So that tacks on one more day. This has not been planned this way. This is how it unfolded because we are guided by our elders and by the spirit and our ancestors.

I’m calling on all our relatives. We cannot do this alone, but together, we can build a new nation.

Simone Senogles, a member of the Red Lake Nation, said she opposes Enbridge’s Line 3 out of concerns about water and climate change. (Photo by Rilyn Eischens/Minnesota Reformer)

Simone Senogles

Member of the Red Lake Nation and part of the Indigenous Environmental Network’s leadership team.

This is my homeland. I live on the Mississippi River. In Anishinaabe culture, women are responsible for water. I take that seriously — I just feel this indescribable sense of responsibility. 

I’m not camping on the platform, but I led the rally on Monday. I’ve stood on this bridge many times with smaller groups, and people drive by and give us the finger and yell at us, and there can be a sense of being alone — feeling this fierce sense of protection for our river, but not feeling incredibly empowered. To have all these people come from everywhere to be with us is really helpful, emotional, empowering and inspiring. I think the whole world is waking up and feeling that sense of urgency.

Tess Athena and Brandon Jonutz traveled from California to northern Minnesota to participate in demonstrations against Enbridge’s Line 3 oil pipeline in June 2021. Photo by Rilyn Eischens/Minnesota Reformer.

Tess Athena and Brandon Jonutz

Residents of California.

Athena: We signed up to participate in a fast tomorrow as part of a ceremony, as part of an offering to help with the action. I feel like water is going to be the one thing that will connect all of us. It doesn’t matter what race or gender or beliefs you have. Everyone needs clean water. 

Jonutz: This specific action has had a really beautiful, grounded leadership from the Indigenous people, and I really respect that. It’s an honor to be invited onto their land and to stand beside them.

Mary Gagnon, a member of the White Earth Nation, poses for a photo at an encampment where Enbridge’s Line 3 will cross the Mississippi River on June 9, 2021. (Photo by Rilyn Eischens/Minnesota Reformer)

Mary Gagnon

Member of the White Earth Nation.

I’m so thankful that people from all stretches of the United States are here to stand in solidarity with us. I think that’s awesome, and I’m thankful that people are here in a good way. For people who aren’t here, I’d say: Get here. And keep watching RISE Coalition on social media for posts about what or who they need here.

Pati Quispe traveled from Michigan for demonstrations Enbridge’s Line 3 oil pipeline in northern Minnesota in June 2021. Photo by Rilyn Eischens/Minnesota Reformer.

Pati Quispe

Resident of Battle Creek, Michigan.

I came here to be able to hear the story of what’s happening. It’s hard to know and understand until you come to the actual site. I’m a storyteller, and it’s hard to separate that from the fact that I’m also committed to respecting the resources of the world — the water that gives us life, the land that gives us life that has been disrespected for so long. There’s no other time but now to put a stop to the disrespect.

It has not been comfortable camping here. I think it can look like camp, like it’s fun. But it has not been like that. It’s very hot, limited food, no showers. We’re very committed to ensuring the livelihood of the future generations, and we’ll do whatever it takes to make sure there’s water.

Gina Peltier, a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibwe, poses for a photo outside an encampment protesting Enbridge’s Line 3 oil pipeline in northern Minnesota June 9, 2021. (Photo by Rilyn Eischens/Minnesota Reformer)

Gina Peltier

Member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibwe.

We share treaty rights with Red Lake, and it’s an honor to be standing with our sisters in this fight. Even though it’s an issue that affects everyone, it’s nice to have that connection.

I’m camping here because they said they were staying. These are my sisters, and I’m staying with them, doing whatever I can to help.

With the beauty of what happened and what’s happening, I’ll deal with anything. I’m here and this is where we need to be. It’s nice and peaceful here. Everyone is taking care of each other.

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Rilyn Eischens
Rilyn Eischens

Rilyn Eischens is a former data reporter for the Minnesota Reformer. Rilyn was born and raised in Minnesota 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.