Gov. Walz Executive Order Affirms Government-to-Government Relationship with Native Nations

Gov Tim Walz

Enbridge Line 3 could provide order’s first significant test

Gov. Tim Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan met with leaders of Minnesota’s Native nations Monday in Morton, Minn. and held a ceremonial signing of an Executive Order that recognizes and supports “the unique status of the Minnesota Tribal Nations and their right to existence, self-govern, and possess self-determination.”

The order officially went into effect on April 5. According to a media release from the Governor’s office issued at that time, “the order applies to all state agencies and was made in consultation with both agencies and tribal governments as it was written.”

“This order ensures the State of Minnesota and the eleven tribes engage in true government-to-government relationships built on respect, understanding, and sovereignty,” said Governor Walz. “We are committed to meaningful consultation with the tribal communities in our state.” (Emphasis in original.)

Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan. (Image from Wikimedia Commons)

“Meaningful consultation” is a tricky phrase.

For instance, does “consultation” mean that a government body or a company will talk to Native nations, check the box that says “We talked to Native nations” then move on and do what they intended to do in the first place? Or does it mean shared decision making in some real sense?

Consultation doesn’t mean consent. The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) technically consulted with Native nations regarding the Enbridge Line 3 tar sands crude oil pipeline, but that consultation didn’t seem to amount to much when it came to the final decision.

Scott Colombe, Farm Director for KLGR Radio, interviewed Walz and Flanagan after the Executive Order’s ceremonial signing Monday. He asked Walz to assess how leaders of the Native nations were responding to his overture.

Walz said Native leaders should be “rightfully skeptical.” “We have a long, unfortunate, unpleasant history in this country of some broken treaties, and things we didn’t keep our word to,” he said

Walz cited Flanagan’s election as Lt. Governor as a change that should help build trust. Flanagan is an enrolled member of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe.

In the April 5 media release, Flanagan acknowledged that the Executive Order built on important work done by former Gov. Mark Dayton. “But we also acknowledge today there’s still a lot of work to do, and that work must never stop. For too long, policy has been done to our tribal communities, instead of with them. That order changes that.”

The Executive Order could get its first real test in how the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) responds to the concerns Tribal nations have regarding the Enbridge Line 3 crude oil pipeline.

Enbridge needs MPCA water crossing permits for the pipeline to proceed. (Technically, these are known as Section 401 permits.)

Line 3 will cross northern Minnesota, 340 miles border to border. It will pass under the Mississippi River twice, including the Headwaters. According to Enbridge’s permit application and the Line 3 environmental impact statement, Line 3 will cross more than 200 lakes, streams, and rivers (including six trout streams), 78 linear miles of wetlands and four wild rice water bodies, with nearly 390 acres of wild rice within a half mile of the pipeline.

Line 3 also will cross lands where Anishinaabe (Chippewa and Ojibwe) bands retain treaty rights to hunt fish and gather on lands they ceded to the U.S. government. The PUC ignored the treaty issue completely when it granted Enbridge the necessary Certificate of Need and Route Permit for Line 3 to proceed.

The question is: Will the MPCA engage in “meaningful consultation” and take those treaty rights seriously as it goes through the water crossing permitting process?

The MPCA is expected to begin a month-long public comment period on the water crossing permits soon. A decision on the permits is expected Oct. 23.

The Executive Order at least provides some hope that the MPCA will listen more closely to indigenous voices than the PUC did.

(Click here to listen to KLGR’s four-and-a-half minute interview with Walz and Flanagan on the Executive Order.)

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