DULUTH — Protesters halted traffic and occupied the Aerial Lift Bridge for about 30 minutes Thursday, Aug. 19, after marching to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers building in Duluth’s Canal Park to demand that the federal government revoke permits for Enbridge's Line 3 pipeline.
A few hundred participated in the "March for Manoomin” starting from the St. Louis County Courthouse in downtown Duluth and ending in front of the doors of the Army Corps building, where people chanted “no license for genocide” and “open up,” to no avail.
“This isn’t about reservations. This isn’t about a couple tribal nations. This is about everyone, absolutely everyone,” said Taysha Martineau, a member of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa who helped form the Line 3 resistance camp in Cloquet, Minnesota.
Opponents of the oil pipeline have long said it violates Indigenous treaty rights, threatens to contaminate water with risk of oil spills, contributes to climate change as it strengthens reliance on fossil fuels and exposes communities next to the construction projects to human trafficking.
Leaders of the march had hoped to have a conversation with members of the Army Corps about the environmental impacts of the 340-mile oil pipeline across northern Minnesota. But the only authorities demonstrators faced were Duluth police officers, who arrived after demonstrators continued to occupy the bridge when the operator asked people to disperse so it could lift to to allow ships through.
At least six squad cars with the Duluth Police Department eventually responded to the demonstration, diverting resources from the "Kids, Cops and Cars" event at Bayfront Festival Park. After the first officers arrived, some protesters shouted “white bodies on the bridge,” causing more demonstrators to gather on its sidewalk. A few protesters shouted at a couple officers until they eventually stepped aside.
Demonstrators then flooded the bridge and temporarily closed it to all traffic until an Indigenous elder called for people to leave the bridge and return to the lawn. Other march leaders, including Martineau, echoed that call by telling protesters they weren’t gathered to face the police, but to discuss the environmental impacts of the pipeline.
Leaders were able to redirect protesters off the bridge by asking them to form a circle on the lawn for music and dancing.
"Demonstrating peacefully and showcasing people’s First Amendment is a right to all and our officers are here to ensure safety for everyone," Duluth Police Department spokesperson Mattie Hjelseth said in a statement.
Hjelseth said the department made no arrests.
“I want to take a moment to say thank you to each and every one of you who are out here right now,” Martineau said to the crowd. “To all of you who stood on the bridge and brought that warrior spirit so that those who have not witnessed that can see what that looks like.”
Thursday’s march followed the “Water is Life: Stop Line 3” music festival Wednesday in Bayfront Festival Park and the Biden administration decision in June to defend the Army Corps’ federal permit for the Line 3 pipeline.
The Army Corps had issued the permit under the Trump administration, but pipeline opponents had hoped President Joe Biden would cancel it after he canceled a permit for the Keystone XL pipeline.
Enbridge is about two-thirds done with work on Line 3.
The Fond du Lac Reservation business committee originally opposed the project, but later agreed to allow Enbridge to build the pipeline through the reservation until the Line 3 route had two options: Go through the reservation following an existing pipeline courier or go through treaty land outside the reservation without any pipelines.
The Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe was also opposed to the pipeline until Enbridge agreed to remove the old Line 3 pipeline from its reservation. The new pipeline is not routed through that reservation.