Writings from the Aitkin County jail

Guest blog by Michele Naar-Obed

March 20, 2021

I have been very active in non-violent efforts to stop the Enbridge Line 3 tar sands pipeline, and recently learned that Aitkin County had issued a warrant for my arrest. It’s another example of law enforcement’s over zealous approach to water protectors.

As soon as I learned about the warrant I made my plan to address it, starting with turning myself in.

This story starts on Jan. 9 in what is known as the 1855 treaty territory, territory a foreign corporation is now occupying and destroying by forcing a new and expanded section of a tarsands oil pipeline through sacred and pristine wetlands and rivers. On that day, I witnessed Ojibwe jingle dress dancers heal our Mother Earth with their dance right on the edge of a gaping wound with a pipe shoved inside.

Michele Naar-Obed, with Tania Aubid (left) and Winona LaDuke (right)

Law enforcement threatened the dancers with arrest. Seven of us, all non-indigenous, were arrested for trespass as we bore witness to these crimes of destruction and treaty violations. Later, four Ojibwe women were also charged with trespass. We were all released with conditions which included staying clear of Enbridge property and workers and remaining “law-abiding”.

Two months later, on March 3, 2021, I attended the commemoration and rally marking the 30th anniversary of the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history, an Enbridge pipeline spill into the Prairie River in Grand Rapids, Minn. I and others were attempting to march on the bridge over the river. We were pushed and corralled into the road by Enbridge security.

I and 70 others were immediately put under arrest without given any opportunity to disperse. We were all held in the Prairie River rest stop parking lot for hours, and finally cited and released. I received my papers in the mail, telling me my arraignment date would be in early May. I would then have the opportunity to plead innocent.

In the meantime, it seems the Aitkin County prosecutor learned of the incident and accused me of intentionally breaking my condition of release. The prosecutor issued a warrant for my immediate arrest and demanded a $1,000 bond for my release from jail.

This warrant, with the threat of arrest and demand of bail, is yet another attempt to suppress the work and moral responsibility of water protectors.

We are not criminals. More than 200 of us — from all walks of life, cultures, faith persuasions and generations — have been forced into the criminal system to face charges and accusations. If that threat isn’t enough to make us cower in silence, they threaten us with jail as further intimidation.

I turned myself in. Although I could have bailed myself out for $500, I chose to request a hearing at the earliest opportunity. (Unfortunately, I arrived at jail Friday afternoon and wouldn’t be able to see a judge until Monday.)

The jailers were surprised that I would choose to turn myself in on a Friday. I told them it was a matter of integrity. It was also an attempt to demonstrate that the spirit of truth, of love, and of justice cannot be undermined or threatened or silenced.

They can jail our bodies, but our minds and our spirits are only strengthened and emboldened. Through the love of community, God/Creator, the ancestors and all the angels and saints, we are empowered.

At my Monday hearing, the prosecutor said I violated my conditions of release and I was a danger to the community and to myself by blocking the road. She insisted on a $1,000 bond for my release. My lawyer argued that the law states that one is assumed innocent until proven guilty. My lawyer also gave the judge background about what happened on the bridge over the Prairie River — and insisted that I be released without bond.

The judge agreed and I was set free.

During my three days in the Aitkin County Jail, I was alone most of the time. The quiet was blissful and gave me an opportunity to connect with God through prayer and in listening. It was a good and sacred time. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. told us that the moral arc of the universe will bend towards justice. Sometimes it needs a little push and I hope that my time in jail helped it bend more easily.

Enbridge is forced to take a two month construction break. Meanwhile, several cases are moving through the courts trying to stop construction completely. As water protectors, we can take the time to strengthen our resolve and our spirits. We can explore ways to heal our Mother Earth and our relatives, and in the process we heal ourselves and our own.

When I entered the jail, one of the guards asked if I had any weapons. Of course not, I said.

But we are in a spiritual war, and in a war zone occupied by a spirit of corruption and destruction and greed. My Anishinaabe friends call that the wendigo spirit. And yes, we do need weapons to fight back. What are those weapons? My spirit, grounded in truth and love. My mind and even the dull stubby pencil that I found in the cell block, enabling me to write down these thoughts and share them in hopes of inspiring others.

To quote the famous author Edward Bulwer-Lytton, “the pen is mightier than the sword.” We can stop Line 3.

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