Native Youth Interrupt Governor’s Water Quality Town Hall; Dayton Promises Private Meeting, But Still Neutral on Line 3

Youth interrupted the Governor’s Town Hall Meeting on Water Quality to speak out against the Enbridge Line 3 tar sands pipeline, saying it was a threat to water quality. In the photo, Dayton responds. (The young girls in the front table were not part of the protest.)

Ten or so youth interrupted Governor Mark Dayton’s Water Quality Town Hall meeting in Minneapolis for about 10 minutes Wednesday night to bring attention to indigenous opposition to the proposed tar sands crude oil pipeline through northern Minnesota. The pipeline — Enbridge Line 3 — threatens the state’s clean waters and wild rice areas and violates treaty rights that allow Anishinaabe to hunt, fish and gather on lands the pipeline would cross.

The youth who took the stage included some of the Native youth who are part of the Youth Climate Intervenors working to stop Line 3. The group was recognized by the Public Utilities Commission as an official intervenor because of the members’ youth — they would be living with the consequences of this pipeline for most of their lives. They will be allowed to provide testimony as the process moves into a more legal format.

The Water Quality Town Hall meeting drew a lot of public interest; between 100 and 200 people attended. It was held in the Minneapolis Urban League basement in north Minneapolis. A few legislators and several top state officials attended, too.

The first 45 minutes of the two-hour meeting were taken up with presentations, leaving a little more than an hour for small table discussions with set questions. As those small group discussions were about to begin, the youth took to the front of the room with a large sign reading “Stop Line 3” and did a call-and-response of “Mni Wiconi … Water is Life!” A table of mostly indigenous people stood in support, joined in, and applauded. Most in the room did not.

Dayton seem perturbed, but did the right thing, offering the youth 5 minutes to make statements.

Catch-22

There’s this thing that happens for activists. If they try to follow the normal channels, they can get ignored. When they show up and disrupt in order to be heard, they are seen as disrespectful and unruly.

Youth Climate Intervenor Nolan Berglund expressed his frustration to Dayton that the youth had attempted to invited him to Line 3 events and engage him in a conversation and received no response from his office. Dayton again did the right thing. He apologized and offered to set up a meeting with the youth.

But that did not end the tension. Dayton has not taken a position on Line 3 and before leaving the stage, the youth pressed him to take a stand. Dayton initially responded by referring the youth to the Department of Commerce’s recently released testimony. “It says it [Line 3] is not needed,” Dayton said.

The youth pressed further for his position. Dayton responded: “I need to reserve my position until later in the process.”

Dayton and some in the crowd wanted to move on and continue the water quality meeting. One of the youth responded that Line 3 was a water quality issue. Rose Whipple, one of the youth intervenors, said: “If it wasn’t a [water quality] problem, we wouldn’t be here!” The youth seemed frustrated with the lack of awareness of Line 3.

Dayton finally said if the youth continued to take over the meeting, he would leave. The youth yielded the floor and the meeting continued.

An Awkward Start

It’s worth mentioning that the meeting began with the emcee asking everyone to stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance. (I haven’t experienced in a public meeting for a while.) Given the recent tensions over NFL players taking a knee during the national anthem, over issues of racial justice, it shouldn’t have been surprising that some people in the room did not stand, and some who stood did not recite the words. While the vast majority did seem to participate, it’s clear that the words “one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all,” ring hollow for those who feel there are institutional efforts to divide us rather than to unite us. Those words ring hollow for those who do not feel seen or heard by their elected leaders.

The Governor’s Office Lack of Responsiveness

As a P.S., the lack of responsiveness from the Governor’s Office the youth described is one that Healing Minnesota Stories has experienced, too. As regular readers of the blog know, we worked for several years to raise awareness about the offensive paintings in the State Capitol. (See our website.) As part of that project, we worked with elementary, middle and high school art teachers to teach about the Capitol art. Students then were assigned to create their own, alternative Capitol art — art that represented their communities and their hopes for Minnesota.

[Revised from the original blog] In one case, students at North View Junior High in Brooklyn Park wrote Dayton, talked about their project, and sent him images of their artwork. Here is the 2014 letter. They did not get a response.

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