Indian Affairs Council to Walz: Stop Line 3, at least temporarily, so legal challenges can be heard

The Minnesota Indian Affairs Council (MIAC) is asking Gov. Tim Walz issue an executive order to temporarily stay construction of the Enbridge Line 3 3 pipeline.

The Minnesota state legislature created MIAC to serve as a liaison between the 11 federally recognized tribes in Minnesota and the state.

In a letter to Walz, sent Wednesday and signed by Chairman Robert Larsen, MIAC said the Native nation wrote with “one voice in solidarity” with Red Lake and White Earth’s requests to delay Line 3 construction.

As we have informed you in the past, the pipeline project opens up a brand new pipeline corridor through a water-rich environment where wild rice and other plants and animals are plentiful. The Red Lake, White Earth, Leech Lake, Mille Lacs, Bois Forte, Grand Portage and Fond du Lac Bands retain rights to hunt, fish, and gather in the areas where the pipeline is currently being constructed. Clearly, the pipeline construction and operation will negatively impact the productivity of the resources throughout the pipeline corridor.

MIAC letter to Walz

Walz has shown little if interest in listening to Indigenous concerns about Line 3. Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan, a member of the White Earth Nation, opposes Line 3, and even that hasn’t convinced Walz to use his considerable authority or even his bully pulpit to sway pipeline decisions.

He’s not even living up to his much-touted executive order promising meaningful consultation with Native nations.

Put simply, he’s been a big disappointment.

Sign that’s been appearing at Stop Line 3 events.

Line 3 construction started Dec. 1. A number of entities have legal challenges pending to stop Line 3. Red Lake and White Earth appealed for a stay in Line 3 construction to give those cases time to be heard. Both the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) and the Minnesota Court of Appeals have denied those requests.

The Minnesota Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments on the substantive legal challenges to deny Line 3’s permits this spring.

Red Lake, White Earth, Honor the Earth, the Minnesota Youth Climate Intervenors, Friends of the Headwaters, the Sierra Club, and the Minnesota Department of Commerce all are trying to stop Line 3. They will argue the permits should be revoked because state regulators failed to adequately consider Line 3’s significant climate damage and its harm to water, wild rice and Indigenous rights. The Commerce Department is arguing the permits are invalid because Enbridge failed to prove the pipeline was needed, a minimal requirement for a permit.

The Court of Appeals’ decision isn’t expected until June, about the time Line 3 work will be wrapping up. MIAC writes:

… Enbridge is now furiously constructing the pipeline, literally at five separate locations along the route in effort to construct as much of the pipeline as possible before the appellate court considers the substantive issues of the appeal. It is very frustrating to us that the PUC failed to grasp the severity of the living tribal cultural resources that are being damaged by the pipeline construction, as well as the PUC’s apparent inability to recognize the irreparable harm that will result to the environment.

MIAC’s letter also offered this worrisome prediction for Minnesota’s northlands:

More important, the impact of President Biden’s decision to rescind the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline will now embolden Enbridge to further expand the corridor that the Canadian company has succeeded in opening with additional pipelines to export tar sands out of Alberta. President Bidenā€˜s decision to stop the Keystone XL pipeline has essentially handed Enbridge a monopoly for exporting tar sands out of Canada. This doesn’t bode well for us.

MIAC approved sending the letter on a vote of 5-0, according to Patrick Coolican’s daily email for the Minnesota Reformer. “Interesting,” he wrote. “It passed without a majority of support but also without any no votes. The yes votes came from Mille Lacs, Lower Sioux, Red Lake, White Earth and Prairie Island.”

Notable in the list of abstentions are the Fond du Lac and Leech Lake bands. Both initially opposed Line 3 but came to their individual deals with Enbridge; they both have agreed not to oppose the project.

Leech Lake dropped its opposition when Enbridge agreed not to push to rebuild Line 3 along its existing route, which crosses Leech Lake. Fond du Lac agreed to drop its opposition and allow the new Line 3 to continue to run through its reservation. The alternative route still ran close to the reservation. By leaving the route in the existing trench, the band will continue to receive financial compensation for its easement.

The fact that they abstained rather voting “no” speaks volumes.

An article by Mary Annette Pember in Indian Country Today, and reprinted by MPR, provides an insightful take on Enbridge’s approach in Indian Country.

“Enbridge leaders know there’s no way for them to win the hearts and minds of all the Native people but they don’t have to,” said Anton Treuer, professor of Ojibwe language at Bemidji State University in Minnesota.

“If they can win over just enough to clear enough hurdles to get the next easement or next little contract or permit approved, they know they’ll be able to get their work done.”

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