A Pipeline Tour and Visit to Turtle Island Camp

A pipeline corridor with multiple pipelines passes near Bemidji High School. (Photo: Natalie Cook.)

I traveled to Bemidji last month to do my part testifying against the expansion of a tar sands oil crude pipeline through northern Minnesota. It was a good trip in many ways. For one, I and the group I traveled with got a chance to take a brief “pipeline tour,” the chance to see what pipeline corridors look like first hand. It made the debate less abstract to me. The group also traveled to Turtle Island Camp, a small camp where William Paulson and other Anishinaabe are working to reclaim their culture —  and are taking a stand against Enbridge Line 3.

Line 3 marker

Sarah Wells (Headbird) took a group of us on the pipeline tour, starting at Bemidji High School. The school is relatively new, built in 2000 well after the pipeline corridor was established. The pipeline corridor is within a few miles of downtown Bemidji. Enbridge’s plan would abandon the old Line 3 in the ground. It would install a new and larger pipeline along a new corridor that goes south of Bemidji, then east to Superior, Wisconsin, passing through the Mississippi headwaters along the way.

The main pipeline corridor through Bemidji would remain.

Wells is one of many people working to stop the expanded Line 3. “We can’t fix the past,” Wells said. “We need to build a new future.”

Those on the tour talked about the possibility of organizing a larger pipeline tour for people from the Twin Cities. An idea that is still percolating. Feedback welcome.

Our next stop was to see one of the fenced areas with bleeder valves, where the tar sands pipelines bleed out air from the pipes.

We also saw the pipeline corridor as it passed through the countryside, a broad open corridor was easily visible. (That’s not always the case, when it passes through wetlands and more remote areas.)

We saw this stack of pipes along the highway.

The draft Environmental Impact Statement on Line 3 discusses some of the “Environmental Justice” issues raised by the project. One of them is the introduction of invasive species where the pipeline corridor is dug up and maintained:

The Applicant’s preferred route risks introducing wild parsnip into a new area because introduction is particularly susceptible in disturbed areas. Further introduction of invasive plants such as wild parsnip in the ceded territories of northern Minnesota and Wisconsin poses a clear danger to the safe exercise of Ojibwe treaty rights. …

Wild parsnip (Pastinaca sativa) recognized by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to be an invasive noxious weed has been introduced to the Fond du Lac Reservation along existing pipeline rights-of-way. Contact with this plant can lead to extremely painful rashes over the skin. This is particularly important in the context of a pipeline within reservation lands and ceded territories that are used by local indigenous groups for food gathering.

Gathering at camp.

We ended up at MikinaakMinis-Turtle Island, which, according to its Facebook page is: “A support haven on beautiful land for community, culture, and traveling ambassadors for Mother Earth. Water is Life.”

We visited and lunched with those at the camp, including Paulson, who oppose Line 3, saying it violates treaty rights. The draft Environmental Impact Statement supports that belief. It says:

A meal at Turtle Island Camp.

[Enbridge’s preferred route] would cross treaty lands that are off-reservation; these lands may be used for traditional tribal uses such as fishing, hunting and trapping, and/or agricultural activities …

Disproportionate and adverse impacts would occur to American Indian populations in the vicinity of the proposed [Line 3] Project. …

A camp car.

American Indian communities and individuals have unique health issues associated with historical trauma and structural racism. Data from the Minnesota [Department of Health] indicate that American Indians in Minnesota have greater health disparities and poorer health outcomes compared to other racial and ethnic groups in Minnesota. …

The impacts associated with the proposed Project [Line 3] and its alternatives would be an additional health stressor on tribal communities that already face overwhelming health disparities and inequities.

As part of opposing Enbridge Line 3, Paulson said it is important to reclaim traditional lifeways: “If I don’t hunt, gather, and fish, how can I ask them to enforce my right to do it?”

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