Judge dismisses charges against five of the ‘Shell River Seven’ who opposed Line 3

Honor the Earth envisions Line 3 exhibit in Park Rapids

Shell River Seven standoff

A District Court judge in Wadena County Monday dismissed gross misdemeanor charges against five of the “Shell River Seven” who peacefully tried to protect the Shell River and Anishinaabe treaty rights against the construction of the Enbridge Line 3 tar sands pipeline.

“Criminalizing and over-charging protestors is a common tactic used by the State to scare activists and suppress movements,” Claire Glenn, an attorney for two of the defendants, said in a media release. “The criminalization of the Shell River defendants was no exception, and this dismissal is a powerful victory for water protectors.”

Shell River Seven. Image: Shell River Seven website.

Law enforcement (wearing special issue scary sunglasses) arrested six elder women July 19, 2021, as they sat peacefully in lawn chairs next to the Shell River “chained to each other and praying to protect the water,” according to the Shell River Seven’s website. Arrested were: Winona LaDuke, Kelly Maracle, Trish Weber, Cheryl Barnds, Barbara With and Mary Klein. K. Flo Razowsky, a photographer covering the ceremony, also was arrested.

Line 3 tunneled under the Shell River, and more than 20 other waterbodies.

The state charged defendants with a gross misdemeanor trespass on critical infrastructure; a gross misdemeanor for refusing to leave; and a misdemeanor for obstructing the legal process. (The gross misdemeanors carry a maximum penalty 365 days in jail each; the misdemeanor carries a maximum penalty of 90 days in jail.)

Judge Doug Clark dismissed charges against five of the defendants before the case went to trial on grounds the state had failed to demonstrate probable cause. (Charges remain against LaDuke and Razowsky, whose cases are on different timetables. The court dismissed LaDuke’s gross misdemeanor charges last summer. She still faces the one misdemeanor charge. Razowsky’s case has yet to go to court.)

“’We are hopeful that the prosecutor will do the right thing” and dismiss all remaining charges, Glenn said.

The defendants argued they were protecting Anishinaabe Treaty Rights under the Treaty of 1855. That treaty protects Anishinaabe rights to hunt, fish, and gather on lands they ceded to the U.S. governments — including the Shell River.

Because charges were dismissed, the treaty rights argument went unaddressed.

Barnds said she regretted the case ended without settling the treaty rights issues, the media release said.

Once again, disparities in law enforcement and jail time need to be called out, along with conflicts of interest baked into the state’s system.

LaDuke criticized the financial incentives law enforcement received to harass and arrest water protectors.

The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) allowed Enbridge to fund a “Public Safety Escrow Account” to reimburse law enforcement for Line 3-related costs, everything from routine patrols of Line 3 work sites to arrests. The total payout was $8.5 million — including $2.2 million to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) which was supposed to be regulating Line 3.

“The result? Overzealous local police, state troopers, and DNR officers made over 1,000 arrests of people peacefully working to Stop Line 3 in 2020 and 2021,” LaDuke said.

This … is a powerful victory for water protectors.

Claire Glenn, attorney

In another conflict of interest, the PUC allowed Enbridge to hire, train, and pay for “Independent Environmental Monitors” to work on behalf of stage agencies — such as the DNR and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency — to be the regulators’ eyes and ears on the ground during Line 3 construction.

The result? These Enbridge-funded monitors failed miserably in Clearwater County and who knows where else.

In Clearwater County, Line 3 workers dug deeper than approved, broke an aquifer cap, and released millions of gallons of groundwater. The damage was supposed to be reported right away. It would take more than four months before DNR officials would learn about the breach — indirectly — from conversations with Independent Environmental Monitors.

(A review of Independent Environmental Monitor resumes showed roughly half had prior work experience with Enbridge, calling into question their independence.)

Enbridge ruptured at least three aquifers during Line 3 construction, all state law violations. Those ruptures released hundreds of millions of gallons of groundwater, and some still haven’t been fixed completely.

The result? While Enbridge ignored its construction plans and delayed reporting a major infraction, no official has faced any jail time. The only criminal charge brought against Enbridge (the company) was a misdemeanor for “appropriating state waters without a permit. Enbridge paid a $1,000 fine.

After the Shell River Seven were arrested, they spent two days in the Wadena County jail awaiting initial court hearings. And for what? Most charges now have been dropped.

A touch of irony and a Line 3 exhibit

Former Carnegie Library in Park Rapids. Image: Honor the Earth

Honor the Earth announced this week it bought the former Carnegie Library building in downtown Park Rapids, where Enbridge once had an office. Water protectors held weekly salsa-dance protests there to let Enbridge know “our spirits would not be broken,” LaDuke said in a media release.

Honor the Earth intends to create “a monument to Indigenous history, culture, treaty and civil rights to help change the narrative in the Deep North, which will likely include at some point a powerful exhibit about the Line 3 struggle,” LaDuke said.

In related news, Honor the Earth announced this week it purchased 700 acres of farmland, including 160 acres of the Offutt potato farm.

“Offutt sprayed its fields with chemicals harmful to nearby organic farms, including Anishinaabe-owned farmers,” LaDuke said in a media release.”

Honor the Earth will use the fields to grow industrial hemp, corn, pumpkins, and organic purple potatoes, she said. “The nutritious purple potatoes of our ancestors are a big step above the pesticide-optimized potatoes formerly grown on the land for McDonald’s French fries.”

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