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LaDuke: A water protector comes home to reflect

Was the fight against Enbridge Line 3 worth it, Winona LaDuke wonders.

Winona LaDuke
Winona LaDuke
We are part of The Trust Project.

I feel like a soldier coming home from a bad war. Hanging my head. Failed some rivers, some water and some animals. Had more than a few haters say “you lost,” or “give it up.”

So, it looks like Enbridge may win this round of dirty oil pipelines. Unless someone in the government has integrity. And for all the haters of northern Minnesota who want, one more time, to stick it to the Indians: Nice work, y’all.

The price is high. Enbridge secured 5 billion gallons of water during a drought — the largest water allocation in the history of the state, and basically sucked wetlands and rivers dry. No environmental review on that one. The regulatory system appears owned by the Canadian multinational.

Enbridge cracked our aquifer in Clearwater County. And that aquifer is hemorrhaging 100,000 gallons a day of drinking water. That’s a crime, and while the fine is $3.2 million, it’s only chump change for the Canadian multinational. The DNR’s published documents reveal that Enbridge caused major damage to the water table when it deviated from its approved construction plan in January. The damage is ongoing, and it is unclear how it can be repaired. Enbridge, the guys who own a big swath of the north, didn’t report that accident. Turns out it seems like they don’t report most of their bad stuff.

During the hottest summer since the Dust Bowl, Enbridge burned our rivers and wetlands with 28 separate known frac outs of toxic chemicals, and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency stood by and pretty much watched it all. Then it took water from municipal water supplies. No one has any idea when those deep aquifers will be replenished, or when Park Rapids might just run out of water.


With the Public Utilities Commission as its enabler, Enbridge prostituted the police of Minnesota, and financed police brutality. Working for a Canadian multinational to protect that company’s private interest, cops from across the state busted 900 people or more. Some were in their ‘70s, some were just 18 years old. All were here for the water. Many of us spent nights in jail. On July 29, rubber bullets were shot at water protectors who suffered deep bruises and later pain compliance torture that targeted mostly young and old women there just for the water.

Four sub-contractors working on Enbridge’s Line 3 Pipeline were arrested in sex trafficking stings, first in Itasca County and then in Beltrami County. The big players in this tragedy are people like Gov. Walz, who bowed to Enbridge’s pandemic pipeline for some jobs and money. And Sens. Klobuchar and Smith, who stand by and pretend they have no say. Enbridge’s bankroll was spread around the north country with the generosity of a predator, I’d say. But the jobs ... well, two-thirds of them went to out-of-state workers. But it wasn’t just a job; this job was about destroying water, people and life.

Walz and Enbridge continue to defy treaties and international law. The United Nations took the extraordinary measure to request a response from the United States regarding allegations of human rights violations against the Anishinaabe associated with the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline construction. The letter notes, among other things, that these rights violations would amount to a violation of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, which the U.S. has signed and ratified.

Walz violated the public trust and brutalized us all for a Canadian corporation. And to be clear on this, that company isn’t even fully insured. During the Line 3 permitting process, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission required Enbridge to obtain $200 million of "environmental impairment liability" insurance, in addition to general corporate liability coverage of $900 million, and to include the State of Minnesota and several American Indian tribes as additional insureds on its policies. But Enbridge recently submitted a report to the PUC saying it will likely not be able to obtain this insurance “in the near future.” As Line 3 moves ahead, we’ve got an uninsured liability in the middle of our territory and that’s irresponsible.

At the end of it, the company successfully pitted brother against sister, neighbor against neighbor. Tribe against tribe. I’m not sure what reconciliation looks like. Asking Native people and water protectors like myself to “get over it” is sort of like asking a woman who was raped to forget about it.

Someone asked me to let people know if it was worth the fight. To that I say, doing the right thing is always the best path. After all, you can live without oil, but not water. A whole bunch of us stand for what’s right. And we’re not going anywhere: the Water Protector Movement is here to stay. Given what’s at stake with the intense carbon-driven warming of our stressed planet, I think history will treat us like the heroes we are.

Winona LaDuke is executive director, Honor the Earth, and an Ojibwe writer and economist on Minnesota’s White Earth Reservation. She is also owner of Winona's Hemp and a regular contributor to Forum News Service.

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