The Potluck

Judge dismisses remaining Line 3 charges against Indigenous activists, citing longstanding government mistreatment

By: - September 15, 2023 3:47 pm

Winona LaDuke, founder and then-executive director of Honor the Earth, speaks about a protest march on June 7, 2021, to stop construction of Enbridge’s Line 3 pipeline project in northern Minnesota. Photo by Mary Annette Pember/Indian Country Today.

A Minnesota judge has dismissed misdemeanor criminal charges against Anishinaabeg activist Winona LaDuke and two others accused of disrupting construction of the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline project in 2021 while offering a powerful indictment of the prosecution.

The decision was accompanied by an impassioned memo from Judge Leslie Metzen citing longstanding concerns over government mistreatment of Indigenous people.

“In the last 20 years I have come to a broader understanding of what we, the now dominant culture, did to try to eradicate our Indigenous neighbors,” Metzen writes. “We moved them by force and power and violence off the land where they lived for thousands of years. To make peace, we signed treaties with them that promised many things they never received.”

In 2021 LaDuke, Tania Aubid and Dawn Goodwin dressed in ceremonial clothing and sang and danced with other protestors in Aitkin County on the banks of the Mississippi as construction took place on the Enbridge project. They were charged with several crimes related to the incident, some of which have already been dismissed.

Metzen wrote that “their presence at various gatherings to protest the construction by Enbridge of the Line 3 pipeline was an expression of their heartfelt belief that the waters of Minnesota need to be protected.” She further noted that the pipeline has been completed and is now operational.

Nearly 900 people faced charges related to various protests against the pipeline project. Protestors accused prosecutors and Minnesota law enforcement of weaponizing the criminal justice system to crack down on freedom of speech. The cases against LaDuke, Aubid and Goodwin were some of the last awaiting adjudication. 

“In the interests of justice the charges against these three individuals who were exercising their rights to free speech and to freely express their spiritual beliefs should be dismissed,” Metzen concluded. “To criminalize their behavior would be the crime.”

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Christopher Ingraham
Christopher Ingraham

Christopher Ingraham covers greater Minnesota and reports on data-driven stories across the state. He's the author of the book "If You Lived Here You'd Be Home By Now," about his family's journey from the Baltimore suburbs to rural northwest Minnesota. He was previously a data reporter for the Washington Post.