More than 1,000 expected to protest Enbridge’s Line 3 in northern Minnesota

    Construction on the Line 3 replacement pipeline was underway near Palisade, Minn. on Jan. 5, 2021. Rilyn Eischens/Minnesota Reformer.

    More than 1,000 people are expected to gather in northern Minnesota this weekend to protest Enbridge’s Line 3 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, aim to peacefully disrupt construction Monday with a gathering centered on the 19th-century treaties giving Indigenous people the right to hunt, fish and gather on lands and waters Line 3 will traverse.

    “Exercising our treaty rights is not a crime,” Nancy Beaulieu, an organizer with environmental nonprofit MN350 and co-founder of the Indigenous advocacy group RISE Coalition, told the Reformer. “We’re calling on our non-Native allies to come and stand in solidarity on those treaty agreements.”

    Speakers are scheduled to address the group before the demonstration, and prominent activists like Jane Fonda and environmental author Bill McKibben will attend. Organizers say details on location and schedule will be released closer to the event.

    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 Native 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. Winona LaDuke, director of Indigenous environmental group Honor the Earth, told the Reformer more and more pipeline opponents from Minnesota and across the country have traveled to join the effort as the weather warmed this spring.

    Relations between opponents and law enforcement have grown increasingly tense as construction proceeds, according to protest organizers. More than 250 people have been arrested in connection with demonstrations against the pipeline, some after chaining themselves to equipment or sitting in pipeline trenches.

    Monday’s event is a “non-violent direct action,” according to the gathering’s website.

    The gathering comes as pipeline opponents and supporters await a decision from the Minnesota Court of Appeals in a legal challenge filed by the Red Lake Nation, White Earth Nation, Honor the Earth and environmental nonprofits. The challenge centers on whether Enbridge proved the pipeline was necessary as required by state law, and a decision is expected by June 21. The court could cancel a key permit, stopping construction in a victory for pipeline opponents.

    “We are praying for the appeals court to give us a reprieve,” LaDuke said. “Otherwise, it’s going to be a really brutal summer.”

    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.