Last, week, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken criticized the Cuban government for suppressing peaceful protests by its citizens seeking a better life. Cuba’s actions lay bare “the regime’s fear of its own people and unwillingness to meet their basic needs and aspirations,” Blinken said.
Note to Blinken: Come visit northern Minnesota where 600 people have been arrested for resisting the Enbridge Line 3 tar sands pipeline. Indigenous communities are trying to protect their way of life, their wild rice, and their treaties. Others have joined to support them to protect the planet and a livable climate.
The Line 3-related arrests and police actions show that our “regime” fears its own people, too.
Some might view as extreme a comparison between repression in Cuba and the treatment of Indigenous people resisting Line 3. Yet what’s happening around Line 3 needs to be understood in the full context of the long history of Indigenous repression, including land theft, broken treaties, boarding schools, assimilation policies, and genocide. For centuries, this country has shown an unwillingness to meet Indigenous peoples’ basic needs and aspirations. Line 3 is the latest manifestation.
As one recent example, the Hubbard County Sheriff’s Office had been blocking access to the Giniw Collective’s encampment; Giniw has engaged in Line 3 opposition. Indigenous leaders Winona LaDuke and Tara Houska sued Hubbard County seeking a temporary restraining order to stop the blockade — and won.
“The Court has ordered cessation of the blockade and obstruction of the Giniw Collective’s camp and barred the Sheriff from continuing to issue citations and threatening to arrest persons for coming to and from the camp,” a Giniw news release said.
“The Hubbard County Sheriff has been served notice that his illegal campaign of militarized harassment and obstruction against our clients must end now,” stated Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, legal counsel to water protectors and director of the Center for Protest Law and Litigation. “This has been an outrageous abuse of law enforcement authority serving the interests of the Enbridge corporation against its environmental opponents.”
The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) approved Line 3 and created a funding scheme that incentivizes law enforcement to take Enbridge’s side against water protectors. Enbridge pays into a Public Safety Escrow Account. Law enforcement applies to a third party manager to get reimbursed for their Line 3-related expenses.
Reimbursements from the fund now top $1.3 million, according to data released by the PUC in response to an information request. Agencies were reimbursed for training, new equipment, and mutual aid responses to direct actions against Line 3.
Notably, the Hubbard County Sheriff hasn’t applied for reimbursement yet. That $1.3 million number is sure to rise. Some claims are still in the queue. Construction is still ongoing. The Hubbard County Sheriff and other law enforcement agencies still have time to apply.
Perhaps most surprising, the Cass County Sheriff’s Department has received nearly $685,000 in Enbridge reimbursements, or more than half the total payout so far. Here are the approved payments to Cass County for February, March, May and July.
Here’s the current list of Enbridge funds distributed to law enforcement and in a few cases, fire departments and an ambulance service.
Some Line 3-related reimbursements are for “proactive patrols.” (In other words, law enforcement acting as Enbridge’s private security and getting paid for it. Here’s a reimbursement to the St. Louis County Sheriff’s Department referring to proactive patrols. It billed $25,000 for proactive Line 3 patrols in January and $26,000 in February, accounting for more than half of all its $94,000 reimbursement.
Cass County invoices included proactive policing in its billing. In a letter seeking reimbursement from the Enbridge account, Cass County Sheriff Tom Burch wrote:
Taking a proactive approach upon the start of the project, we instituted Safety Patrols in and around the project corridor. A supervisor is assigned to the project and meets several times daily with Enbridge Public Safety Liaison (PSL) staff to discuss project work areas, safety concerns, calls for service, intelligence gathering and public safety initiatives for the day. Deputies patrol the corridor, routes and work areas and are in the area to quickly respond to calls for service that are project relatedCass County Sheriff Tom Burch
That’s a lot of bonding time (and money) between Enbridge and law enforcement.
I’ve driven by Enbridge work sites when there’s no construction happening but there’s still a county deputy parked at the ready nearby, such as the photo below from Hubbard County.
Water protectors are risking arrest along Line 3 for at least two reasons.
First, they’re taking a moral stand against a harmful and unnecessary project and the unjust process that approved it. Faced with a broken system and no good options left, people feel called to put their bodies on the line as a statement of their deeply held values about honoring treaties and protecting Mother Earth.
Second, water protectors are trying to garner media attention to get more people to understand the deep flaws in the system that approved Line 3.
State regulators’ arguments to approve Line 3 often defied logic, policy goals, and political promises.
Here’s part of the message water protectors are trying to bring to the public’s attention.
Gov. Tim Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan pledged through executive order that state government and its various agencies would engage in meaningful consultation with Indigenous nations on issues of shared interest. They didn’t follow through when it came to permitting Enbridge Line 3.
The Governor and state agencies have ignored Indigenous treaty rights even though they are legally obligated to follow them. Treaties are the supreme law of the land. At a minimum, the state should have gotten a legal opinion to understand their responsibilities, but failed to do so. (If they have, they have not made it public.)
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s (MPCA’s) stated mission is “to protect and improve the environment and human health.” It approved Enbridge Line 3 which violates its mission as well as its commitment to address climate damage.
The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) ignored Indigenous concerns about Line 3-related human trafficking increases because Enbridge said it wouldn’t be a problem. (It is.) It ignored experts who said Line 3 would create $287 billion in climate damage (worse droughts, worse storms, etc.) because Enbridge said that pipelines don’t cause climate damage. It ignored the Minnesota Department of Commerce which said Enbridge failed to prove Line 3 is needed, siding with Enbridge instead.
This list goes on. The point is that for every single significant Line 3 decision, the state sided with a foreign corporation, just like law enforcement is doing now.
For more on the Enbridge-law enforcement connection, check out The Intercept’s latest piece: Minnesota Police Expected Pipeline Budget Boost to Fund New Weapons: The same cops tasked with policing resistance to pipelines anticipate financial benefits from oil companies moving into their areas.
Here’s how it starts:
A few weeks before a controversial oil pipeline was approved for construction in his area, Aitkin County, Minnesota, Sheriff’s Deputy Aaron Cook bought a new assault rifle that cost $725. The purchase was part of an effort to standardize police weaponry, said Cook’s boss, the local sheriff, and was unrelated to the Line 3 pipeline being built by Enbridge. Cook himself, however, told the gun seller that Enbridge could play a role in boosting the agency’s arsenal.
“Our budget took a hit last week, so that’s all we will be ordering for now,” the deputy said in a November 2020 email about his purchase. “I’m hoping the pipeline will give us an extra boost to next year’s budget, which should make it easy for me to propose an upgrade/trade to your rifles rather than a rebuild of our 8 Bushmasters” — a reference to another make of assault rifles.The Intercept
As a P.S., I’m still waiting to learn the basics around the Northern Lights Task Force. It was created in 2018 with the sole purpose to prepare and coordinate law enforcement agencies and Enbridge to respond to Line 3 protests. (Note in the chart above that law enforcement agencies in southern Minnesota, such as the Goodhue County and Winona County Sheriff’s offices, have responded to Line 3 direct actions.)
I emailed Bruce Gordon, DPS’s director of communication, Aug. 5, 2020 asking for some basic information on the Task Force, such as its budget, participants, the kind of training being provided, etc. He acknowledge the request.
After nearly three weeks with no response, I emailed Gordon Aug. 25 asking for an update. He replied “I don’t have an estimate for you, but your request is in the queue.”
I wrote one more time Nov. 18, three months after my initial request, expressing my disappointment in the delay.
I haven’t received a response, but the silence says everything.