‘We’re here to ask for help’: Tribal leaders urge Walz to block Line 3

By: - July 15, 2021 5:00 am

Leadership of the White Earth Nation traveled to the state Capitol on July 14, 2021 to urge Gov. Tim Walz to meet with them about Enbridge’s Line 3.

White Earth Nation leadership traveled to the state Capitol Wednesday, calling on Gov. Tim Walz, Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan and President Joe Biden to meet with them, government to government, about Enbridge’s Line 3 pipeline.

The Capitol rotunda was draped with signs reading “honor the treaties” and echoed with chants of “stop Line 3” from the 100-plus people in attendance. As the new Line 3 nears completion, tribal leaders are increasing pressure on Walz and Biden to block the project. The 337-mile pipeline is more than 60% complete and expected to carry oil by the end of the year.

“We’re not here to cause trouble. We’re here to ask for help,” said Ray Auginaush, a White Earth representative. “Remember our generations ahead of us — this is why we’re here today. My great-grandkids are here. That’s who I’m looking out for.”

Walz spoke with White Earth Chairman Michael Fairbanks before the rally Wednesday, according to a spokesperson from Walz’s office. They discussed “a commitment to an ongoing government-to-government dialogue,” the spokesperson said.

White Earth and Red Lake say the state didn’t sufficiently engage with them as sovereign nations throughout the pipeline permitting and construction process, which the state disputes. Another tribe, the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, agreed to let Enbridge build the new pipeline through its land in exchange for compensation and removing the existing Line 3 pipeline there. 

“Government-to-government relations and tribal-state relations are important to the governor and a priority of his administration,” Walz’s spokesperson said.

The calls for Walz and Flanagan to act also highlighted a rift in the governor’s office: Walz supports the project, while Flanagan opposes it.

Walz, a first-term Democrat-Farmer-Labor governor, announced in 2019 that he would not block the project because he felt doing so would defy the checks and balances between the branches of government. He has publicly said little about the project since.

“If you fall on the side that says, ‘Well, the governor should just stop this; it’s the right thing to do,’ then you would be making the case that the next governor should just build one, without any environmental review, without any process involved,” Walz said in 2019.

Flanagan, a member of the White Earth Nation, opposes the project but has also been tight-lipped as construction barrels ahead. In a statement posted to Twitter Wednesday evening, she said she was “once again speaking up” to voice her disapproval. 

“Support for Line 3 is inconsistent with my family’s values. While I cannot stop Line 3, I will continue to do what is within my power to make sure our people are seen, heard, valued and protected,” Flanagan said. “I stand with my people in opposition.”

White Earth Chairman Michael Fairbanks spoke at the state Capitol on July 14, 2021 to urge Gov. Tim Walz to meet with the tribe about Line 3.

Opposition to Line 3 has been gaining national traction since construction started in December, following six years of review, permitting and litigation. 

Michael Brune, executive director of the national Sierra Club, told the crowd Wednesday that he and his family traveled to Minnesota from California because “this is the most important fight in the country right now.”

Brune told the Reformer his family had a powerful experience on their drive as they passed through some places that the Keystone XL pipeline would have crossed. The project, which was slated to run from Alberta to Kansas, was canceled after Biden revoked a key permit on his first day in office. Brune hopes Line 3 meets a similar fate.

“(Walz) knows that the right thing to do — for tribal sovereignty, for our climate, for water — is to stop the pipeline from being built,” Brune said. “It’s true that our economy is somewhat powered by oil, but we don’t need tar sands oil. We need to be phasing out oil.”

The health of wild rice — a sacred food for the Anishinaabeg — has been a chief concern of project opponents, who say construction or a leak could cause irreparable harm to wild rice beds near the route.

Indigenous people have been increasingly worried about the rice amid the drought and a recent permit change allowing Enbridge to remove 4.9 billion gallons of groundwater during construction, nearly a tenfold increase from the original permit. Enbridge says their extraction systems don’t cause water levels to change during construction.

“That’s my son,” said Fond du Lac band member Taysha Martineau, as a toddler crawled toward her across the rotunda floor. “I can’t even promise him that he’ll grow up gathering wild rice. We’re taught to look seven generations ahead, and I’m terrified.”

Also on Wednesday, the White Earth Nation, Red Lake Nation and environmental groups asked the state Supreme Court to review a recent appeals court decision upholding key permits for the project. The groups are still awaiting a state appeals court decision in a challenge of another Line 3 permit, as well as a federal court decision regarding a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permit. 

The Biden administration defended the project in June, urging the court to reject the federal permit challenge in a victory for Enbridge and major disappointment to activists fighting the pipeline.

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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.