Russell Means’ Words Echo Today on Enbridge Line 3

Russell Means, one of the founders of the American Indian Movement (AIM), gave a controversial speech in 1980. Mother Jones covered it and ran a story headlined: “For the World to Live, Europe Must Die.

Mother Jones republished the article in 2012 when Means died. A friend sent me a link to it last year, and as I was cleaning out my l inbox I came across it again. I re-read it and was struck by the parallels with the Enbridge Line 3 Tar Sands Pipeline today.Means opens by criticizing the primacy European cultures places on the written word:

The process itself epitomizes the European concept of “legitimate thinking”: what is written has an importance that is denied the spoken. My culture, the Lakota culture, has an oral tradition, so I ordinarily reject writing. It is one of the white world’s ways of destroying the cultures of non-European peoples, the imposing of an abstraction over the spoken relationship of a people.

Comment: During the Public Utilities Commission’s Line 3 review process, pipeline opponents were absolutely buried in paper (and generated a fair amount themselves.) There was the 434-page Administrative Law Judge Report, the 2,063 Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) (along with the draft EIS and the revised final EIS), and loads of pages of motions and testimony. These documents established “the record” that was to determine the outcome. This paper trail gives the veneer of fairness, but in important ways the system slanted in favor of Enbridge. Indigenous concerns and culture did not receive their due weight.

What’s Old is New

Means discussed the European mindset of “despiritualizing” the Universe, where “it becomes virtuous to destroy the planet.”

Terms like progress and development are used as cover words here, the way victory and freedom are used to justify butchery in the dehumanization process. For example, a real estate speculator may refer to “developing” a parcel of ground by opening a gravel quarry; development here means total, permanent destruction, with the earth itself removed. But European logic has gained a few tons of gravel with which more land can be “developed” through the construction of road beds. Ultimately, the whole universe is open—in the European view—to this sort of insanity.

Comment: This is where we are at with Line 3. We are told that we are “safer” with this new Line, 3, even though it will generate $287 billion in climate change costs for future generations, even though we risk oil spills in our cleanest waters, and even though this project isn’t needed. The PUC used tortured logic to approve Line 3.

At the time of Means’ original speech, a key environmental issue on Pine Ridge was uranium mining. He writes

… we have a lot of uranium deposits here, and white culture (not us) needs this uranium as energy production material. The cheapest most efficient way for industry to extract and deal with the processing of this uranium is to dump the waste by-products right here at the digging sites. Right here where we live…. This is considered by industry, and by the white society that created this industry, to be an “acceptable” price to pay for energy resource development. Along the way they also plan to drain the water table under this part of South Dakota as part of the industrial process, so the region becomes doubly uninhabitable.

Comment: The parallel: Enbridge wants to leave its pipeline in the ground because that is the most efficient (and cheapest) for the company. Public pressure forced Enbridge to offer a program with the slick-sounding name “Land Owner Choice Program.” It means the land owner has the choice whether to have Enbridge remove the pipeline or leave it in the ground. The words look good on paper, but it’s a ruse. Enbridge expects few takers. That’s because it plans to offer owners financial incentives to let the company leave the pipeline in the ground. This essentially is a bribe to push the cleanup costs to future owners.

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