Friday’s bomb scare in Carlton County will be used by some to make water protectors seem dangerous, shifting attention away from real dangers posed by the Enbridge Line 3 tar sands pipeline.
Water protectors were demonstrating against Line 3 in Carlton County Friday. As the event was happening, the county received a 9-1-1 call reporting a “suspicious device,” the Sheriff’s Office said. A news story called it “a suspicious package thrown into a pipeline construction area.”
The county’s response was quick and perhaps excessive. It called in the bomb squad. Law enforcement evacuated 40 nearby residences within a half-mile radius of the device. Carlton County Sheriff Kelly Lake called in regional and federal law enforcement. She’s calling for maximum charges and penalties.
There was no bomb. Still, placing a “replica device” that causes fear and panic is a crime.
The incident occurred near Camp Migizi, an Indigenous-led frontline resistance camp, but the protests that day were several miles away from where the incident occurred.
There’s been no information released that ties the incident to Camp Migizi or the protest. There have been no arrests. Yet without evidence, Enbridge and others are blaming water protectors.
Enbridge evacuated its workers and, out of an abundance of caution, shut down its operational pipelines in the area.
Putting the lives of workers and others at risk is unacceptable. Protestors need to know actions that put people in harm’s way will be prosecuted, and that we are working with the police and other authorities to assure worker safety.Enbridge statement
Taysha Martineau, a Fond Du Lac Band member and part of Camp Migizi said: “The criminalization of water protectors and Indigenous leaders of the resistance is a tale as old as time immemorial. We stand with Camp Migizi.”
Sam Grant, executive director of MN350, called Friday’s use of the emergency alert system for what turned out to be a false alarm “inappropriate fear mongering.” The protests have been peaceful, he said.
“The real violence happening in Northern Minnesota is what is being done as Enbridge constructs Line 3. We remain focused on protecting our water, land, wildlife and human life,” Grant said.
The water protector movement is wide and deep
Water protectors are not a monolithic group, they come from many backgrounds and motivations.
Some are Indigenous people with a deep connection to the land and concern for treaty rights. Others got involved to protect clean water from oil spills. Many are young people fearful of Line 3’s climate damage. They are clergy and scientists, and students and parents and people from all walks of life.
Individuals and organizations in the movement use different strategies.
Some seek justice through the courts. Others write letters to the editor or elected representatives. Still others seek justice by taking to the streets and forests with prayer vigils, marches, and rallies.
Some do nonviolent civil disobedience, trespassing on Enbridge property and refusing to leave. Some chain themselves to Enbridge equipment if only to pause the project for a short time. One person even camped in a tree on Line 3’s route.
These aren’t violent crimes. They are acts of moral conviction. People are willing to pay a ticket or spend a night or two in jail to take a stand, a very American thing to do.
A familiar narrative
The suspect could be a water protector, a lone wolf who had nothing to do with the local water protector movements, or a plant to discredit water protectors and sow division within the movement. The person could be Indigenous or non-Indigenous.
We. Don’t. Know.
A call to the Carlton County Sheriff’s office today for an update has not yet been returned.
Law enforcement has not released a description of the device. People who were on site but asked not to be named are saying the device was a rape whistle. This could have been used to symbolize the rape of Mother Earth.
We can make better judgments when we get more details.
Standing Rock is a cautionary tale. Recall Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) oil executives tried to frame water protectors as terrorists. (Recall, too, how Pope Francis seemed to back Standing Rock’s efforts to block DAPL, saying “indigenous cultures have a right to defend ‘their ancestral relationship to the earth.”)
Tara Houska of the Giniw Collective recalled similar tactics at Standing Rock.
“[P]olice sent out alerts clearing schools because of ‘protesters’ in the area and ran a narrative of us killing cattle, being violent, etc.,” she said. “I thought Minnesota would do better, but it appears to not be the case. It’s shameful to paint non-violent water protectors as a threat when outside pipeliners are actively destroying our territory and bringing violence and COVID to the area.”
A tweet from the pro-mining group Minnesota Miners indicates the messaging to :
@LtGovFlanagan Do you approve of the behavior being displayed by Native Americans protesting .@Enbridge Line 3? Do you think it is ok to throw packages that look like bombs to strike fear into people? Are you going to condemn this or look the other way. @MinnesotaMinersMinnesotaMinres
The tweet targets Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan, an enrolled member of the White Earth Nation and Line 3 opponent. Asking her if she approves of the “behavior being displayed by Native Americans protesting Line 3” is a canard, implying that a Native American threw the “package.” That’s unknown. Calling on her to condemn the actions of all Native Americans opposing Line 3 is ridiculous.
Here’s Winona LaDuke’s take: “We thank the peaceful, powerful water protectors for standing for life.”
A word on anger
Some people might be uncomfortable with the loud chants and even anger water protectors express at times. In conflict-avoidant Minnesota, anger and shouting is distressing.
People need to take the time to understand the depth of the anger and why it’s justified.
Why are water protectors out in freezing temperatures — in the middle of a pandemic — with their signs, smudge, and heavy winter boots?
Water protectors played by the rules for years. They showed up for the Administrative Law Judge’s public hearings on Line 3. They showed up at the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) meetings and submitted thousands of comments. They engaged with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s (MPCA’s) Line 3 review.
All that work amounted to zilch.
The sad and tragic death of logic
When it came to Line 3 decisions, “down” meant “up” and “stop” meant “go.” At every turn, as if by magic, logic disappeared. Presto chango! The pipeline was approved.
Line 3 ‘s crude oil would add $287 billion in climate damage over the next three decades. (Think worse droughts and storms, agricultural losses, etc.) That nine-digit price tag comes from the state’s Line 3’s environmental impact statement. The MPCA agreed with the estimate.
Gov. Tim Walz and the MPCA claimed addressing climate damage was a top priority. Surely, that would stop Line 3.
The Administrative Law Judge recommended against Enbridge’s plan. Surely, that would stop Line 3.
The Minnesota Department of Commerce concluded Enbridge failed to show there was sufficient oil demand to justify building the pipeline. Surely, that should stop Line 3.
Yet they didn’t stop Line 3. Somehow state leaders aren’t worried about the massive environmental damage from a project they know isn’t needed.
More troubling, Walz, the PUC, and the MPCA ignored treaty rights as if the state didn’t have to follow the law. Tribal nations claim treaty rights to hunt, fish and gather on lands the pipeline traverses. They have a strong argument based on treaty language and past U.S. Supreme Court rulings. Yet no state official, agency, or commission even tried to understand the state’s treaty obligations. Our leaders approved the project in willful ignorance.
People shouldn’t be surprised that Indigenous people are angry. The one-sided treaties gave the Ojibwe people very little in return for their lands. And now the state of Minnesota is reneging on those meager benefits.
Where’s the parity?
Is trespassing a bigger problem than a crude oil spill in wild rice waters?
Is chaining oneself to equipment a bigger problem than climate catastrophe?
Trespassing and chaining to equipment are immediate acts with clearly identified individuals. They’re easy to punish. Law enforcement has it down.
Oil spills and climate damage are in the future. It’s more difficult to point the finger at any one person and hold them accountable.
Yet that’s what we need. Accountability for those really big problems.
Prepare to respond to those trying to frame water protectors as violent and a threat to the community. Speak the truth about what is happening in northern Minnesota, and what the real threats are.