Carlton County Sheriff defends half-mile evacuation zone when electronic devices were thrown into Line 3 work area

Racial profiling, racial fear, seem to be in play

Camp Migizi, an Indigenous-women-led Line 3 frontline resistance camp, got criticized last week following a bomb scare at an Enbridge worksite that turned out to be a false alarm.

Last Monday, Feb. 22, Carlton 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.”

Carlton County Sheriff Kelly Lake said today the incident was still under investigation and she couldn’t give many details. “What I can tell you, it was a couple of electronic-type devices that were making audible noises.”

Responding to the incident, Kelly along with other local officials, decided to evacuate the 40 homes within a half-mile radius of the device. She also called in the FBI. The law enforcement response raised community fears and generated ill-will towards the camp. The Fond du Lac Band government said the incident “created widespread public safety concerns.”

A truck bomb with a half-ton of TNT wouldn’t have required such a large evacuation area, according to federal data. Local law enforcement’s response seemed like a major overreaction. Lake defended her decision.

[This blog updates a story published earlier today.]

The incident occurred on the Fond du Lac Reservation. It’s an open reservation, so the County Sheriff, not the FBI, has jurisdiction, Lake said.

The relationship between the bomb threat, Camp Migizi, and the Feb. 22 protests hasn’t been clear.

Kelly said they were all within a half mile of each other, with Camp Migizi the furthest away. “The protest was in the area where the devices were thrown,” she said, but she couldn’t say how close.

Carlton County Sheriff Kelly Lake

Kelly said the decision to evacuate the 40 houses was done “out an abundance of caution.” The biggest deciding factor was “not knowing exactly what the devices were that were thrown.”

For some perspective, if a van with 1,000 pounds of TNT exploded, a safe standoff distance would be about 1,000 feet, or less than one-fifth of a mile, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). For a suitcase with 20 pounds of TNT, a safe standoff distance is about 125 feet.

A half-mile evacuation zone is 2,640 feet.

Source: FEMA

Kelly said she was unaware of those federal standards. Still, she would “all day long defend the fact that we evacuated maybe more than we had to,” she said. “That’s hindsight.”

Comment: The evacuation was a large overreaction. It’s an example of racial bias and racialized fears seen in policing. It’s might not be a conscious thing but part of our country’s racialized programming. Law enforcement sees Native people, some angry about broken treaties, some prayerful, and have a fear reaction. An electronic device making noises becomes a Rorschack Test. It’s seen as an immediate danger: “It’s a bomb! Run!”

Why is the default assumption a bomb?

Water protectors up and down Line 3 have used non-violent protest against Line 3. They might not be popular for some up north, but they haven’t been violent. Nothing in the past months of protests suggests anyone would use anything close to a bomb, let alone a weapon.

Kelly is convinced that the device was thrown with the explicit intent to create fear, she said. She tied the incident very closely to Camp Migizi “from the information we received,” but would give no further details.

Before having any details, Lake told MPR: “We will push for the maximum charging and penalties for everyone involved in these types of crimes.”

Sadly, this massive law enforcement overreaction cements a story line that maximum penalties are deserved.

Kelly deflected any responsibility for contributing to the community’s fear. “The fear that was caused was due to the criminals that threw [the device] in there, not by the response of law enforcement and the first responders.”

Here’s how the conversation went:

Q: If you don’t have an arrest and haven’t talked to the individual(s), how do you know their intention was to scare people?

A: What do you think their intention would have been?

Q: One of the things that I have heard was that it was a rape whistle. And it was trying to call attention to the rape of Mother Earth by the pipeline.

A: I am not aware of that.

Kelly said three devices were thrown, and wouldn’t confirm or deny whether they were rape whistles.

Meanwhile, Camp Migizi continued its Line 3 resistance work Sunday.

Nearly 100 people gathered at the camp near Sawyer in Carlton County, then traveled to an Enbridge storage yard to sing and chant about protecting the water and naming the problem of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Relatives. (Video of the event here.)

News broke last week that a state human trafficking sting led to seven arrests, two of which were Line 3 workers. It has raised tension in northern Minnesota’s Indigenous communities which have significant worry about the influx of out-of-state workers and how that could translate into more sex and drug trafficking in general and more Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Relatives in particular.

Here are a few photos from Sunday’s event.

Driving from Camp Migizi to the Enbridge storage yard participants saw signs of Line 3’s ongoing construction, such as this stack of cleared timber.
Water protectors gathered near Omar’s gravel pit, where Enbridge has a storage yard.
Young ones came.
The group marched down a road leading past the gravel pit/storage yard.
There was a circle and ceremony on the road across from the storage yard.

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