Four-day ‘Treaties Not Tar Sands’ Encampment opens on the State Capitol Mall

A dozen tepees went up on the Minnesota State Capitol Mall Monday.

Minnesota is the Land of 10,000 contradictions around racial equity.

Gov. Tim Walz issued an executive order in 2019 committing the state to meaningful consultation with Native Nations. He followed that up by allowing Enbridge to build its Line 3 tar sands pipeline over strong tribal opposition with little or no consultation.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) has touted its racial justice framework. When the agency approved permits for Enbridge Line 3, a majority of its Environmental Justice Working Group resigned, writing: “… we cannot continue to legitimize and provide cover for the MPCA’s war on black and brown people.”

Native grandmothers, water protectors, and their allies are not letting up. They have set up camp on the Capitol lawn as a sign both of their ongoing resistance to Line 3 and their long-standing commitment to uphold treaty rights.

The state has responded with fear: erecting fencing around the Capitol and sending a heavy police presence.

Concrete barricades and fencing now surround most of the Capitol.

The ‘Treaties Not Tar Sands’ encampment will remain until Thursday. Organizers are planning a ceremony for 10 a.m. Tuesday, with talking circles in the afternoon.

The major event is Wednesday at 2 p.m. when walkers arrive on the Capitol grounds, ending a 200+ mile walk from the Mississippi headwaters to the Capitol, an effort to draw attention to the travesty that is the state-approved Enbridge Line 3 pipeline.

Please come and bring your friends and family.

A photo essay and commentary follows.

Indigenous organizers and volunteers brought the poles, ropes, pegs, tepee skirts and duct tape, everything needed to erect tepees.

Many volunteers who showed up learned how to work together to put up tepees.

Volunteers worked in teams of eight or more.

Each tepee has its own story.

The tent remembering Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women.
A tent honoring the legacy of “ledger art.”
This one is self explanatory.

Throughout the day, a large number of law enforcement officers were on hand to observe. (At one point I counted 11 officers on the Capitol steps.

Law enforcement officers were a constant presences.

The law enforcement officers I talked to were polite. But I don’t have the sense that they understand that their uniforms, guns, and very presence made many people feel less safe, the result of a long and painful history between law enforcement and Indigenous peoples (and allies of Indigenous peoples).

In one bizarre example, four officers approached a woman who, along with a child, had been drawing with sidewalk chalk. Apparently it’s against Capitol rules. The woman had written “Mni Wicone,” the Dakota phrase meaning “water is life.” The child had made a drawing.

Law enforcement overkill.

Four officers approached the woman, which seemed intimidating. (One possible guess, they were all bored out of their skulls because they had nothing to do and finally there was something to do.)

The woman had to use her mni (water) to clean off the offending chalk.

One of the “crime scenes,” after washing.

The tepees became a vibrant part of the Capitol Mall artwork. That art is a mixed bag.

Elsewhere on the Capitol, a memorial to Hubert Humphrey extols his civil rights leadership:

Freedom is not real to me when I have it and my brother does not, when my nation enjoys it and another does not, when my race achieved it and others have not.

Humphrey memorial on the Capitol grounds.

Elsewhere on the mall sits an empty pedestal, the former site of a Christopher Columbus statue. It was a painful symbol of Native American genocide. Mike Forcia, an AIM (American Indian Movement) leader, pulled down the statue in 2020 after numerous requests to remove it over the years went nowhere. (At the time, the state had no formal process to make such requests.)

Empty Columbus pedestal in the foreground, tepees in the background.

Also worth noting is the statue honoring Knute Nelson on the Capitol steps, facing the encampment.

The fact that Knute’s statue remains in place is a case of not knowing our history. We’re sticking with the statue simply because it’s always been there. Fewer than one in 100 people entering the Capitol could identify Nelson, yet he still occupies prime Capitol real estate.

Knute Nelson is not someone who deserves to be honored with a statue in front of the Minnesota State Capitol.

Nelson served as a Minnesota U.S. Representative, Senator and Governor. He’s perhaps best known for passing the “Nelson Act” in Congress. It’s official title was “An act for the relief and civilization of the Chippewa Indians in the State of Minnesota.” Not surprisingly, that’s a euphemism. The act did not provide relief. Quite the opposite, it violated treaties, forced assimilation, and stole Native lands.

The words in the Act’s title sounded good, but they were just cover for underlying greed. (For more details on Nelson, click here.)

Kind of like how Gov. Walz’s promise of “meaningful consultation” sounded good but meant the opposite.

On Line 3, the Walz administration is following in Nelson’s footsteps, not Humphrey’s. Anisinaabe bands and nations have rights to hunt, fish, gather, and occupy lands Line 3 crosses. Line 3 and future oil spills pose a significant threat to those rights.

Please come on Wednesday and 2 p.m. and show your support for treaty rights and Indigenous peoples.

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