For seven years, Indigenous organizations, primarily led by women, and allied environmental groups have taken every route possible to stop oil company Enbridge’s Line 3 pipeline.
The headwaters of the Mississippi River glisten as the sun rises from the east, casting light into the depths of clear, uncontaminated waterways that provide home and habitat to countless animals and plants, including wild rice, a sacred grain to the Anishinaabe People. The rivers and streams wind through forests of maple and birch, offering life to a region rich in natural abundance and Anishinaabe ways of life.
In stark contrast, pipeline workers and heavy machinery have been grinding, excavating and tearing through the woodlands and meadows as construction of the Line 3 tar sands pipeline barrels forward. Yet, along these sacred waterways in Northern Minnesota, resistance to the destruction is growing ever stronger, and the fight to protect water, Indigenous rights, and the climate escalates daily— notably with Indigenous women and two-spirit leaders forging the way. We are told it is women’s sacred duty to protect the water.
For the past seven years, Indigenous organizations, primarily led by women, and allied environmental groups have taken every route possible to stop Canadian oil company Enbridge’s Line 3 pipeline project. The pipeline is set to run from the tar sands of Alberta, Canada, to the shores of Lake Superior, crossing more than 200 bodies of water and 800 wetlands.
Enbridge is known to have caused some of the worst oil spills in U.S. history, and beyond the irreparable harm to sensitive ecosystems through construction, Line 3 would create an immense risk of tar sands spills throughout the region. On top of the environmental impacts of an oil spill, Line 3 would also result in an additional 193 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions every year, furthering the climate crisis and making it impossible for the U.S. to meet the goals stated in the Paris Climate Agreement.
Additionally, Tribal Nations in Minnesota have not given consent for Line 3. The Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians and the White Earth Band of Ojibwe are currently leading a legal battle to oppose pipeline construction and uphold their treaty rights, which includes protecting the Ojibwe’s culturally significant—and legally protected—wild rice beds.
At the same time, Indigenous women and girls experience unique threats and dangers when pipelines arrive in their communities. One of the most well-documented and devastating gendered implications of the oil and gas industry is the increase in rates of sexual assault and violence against Indigenous women and girls in areas where temporary housing sites, called “man camps,” are erected for transient male workers.
Already this year, two Line 3 pipeline workers in Itasca County, Minn., were arrested and charged with human trafficking, and specifically, solicitation of a minor. Local advocates have also seen a rise in sexual assault and harassment since the start of construction. These are only a few of the many reasons Indigenous women are organizing to stop the pipeline.
As Enbridge prepares to ramp up construction this summer, Indigenous women and local organizers are inviting supporters to mobilize and join them for the Treaty People Gathering in early June. If you are interested in attending or supporting the mobilization, please learn more here.
For now, meet 11 remarkable Indigenous Water Protectors who are on the frontlines fighting to stop Line 3 and protect their communities and homelands. This is a vital stand for water, climate, Indigenous rights, and our collective future.
Unless otherwise noted, photos and statements were collected by Ne-Dah-Ness Greene, Greene Photography (Leech Lake Nation), on behalf of the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN). The quotes have been edited for clarity and length.
Great-Grandmother Mary Lyons (Leech Lake band of Ojibwe)
Owner of Wisdom Lessons, Grandmothers of the Sacred We, and Global Indigenous Wisdom Keepers.
“We are the Seed Keepers and if our wombs get contaminated it means that the seeds will be contaminated and when one woman falls all women fall. We have very, very little water on this planet that is sustainable for humans to drink, and if you start contaminating that water—such as they did—what’s happening is it’s starting to harm people. This contamination that is going to be happening is not only going to be for the two-legged human beings, but is also going to start happening to the planet, to the trees, to fish, to the birds, to the fruits within our forests, our berries.”
Binesekwe – Winona LaDuke (Bear Clan from Round Lake on the White Earth Reservation)
Executive director of Honor the Earth.
“This is everything that we have, it is our water, it is our rice, it is our future. I’m going to stand for the water and I’m going to stand for what’s right and that’s the future we are going to make.”
Zhaabowekwe – Tara Houska (Bear Clan, Couchiching First Nation Anishinaabe)
Founder of Giniw Collective.
“I am out here because of the threats to our wild rice, and the obligation I have as a woman to protect the water. This is the only place in the world where wild rice grows, and a threat to that is a threat to our survival as a people. It’s not only a violation of our treaty rights and the expansion of the fossil fuel industry, and climate change and all of that, it is a threat to our ability to survive and to pass on our practices of wild rice to the next generation and to the generations to come.”
Gaagigeyaashiik – Dawn Goodwin (White Earth Band of Ojibwe)
Co-founder of RISE coalition, representative of Indigenous Environmental Network, host of the Wild Rice Protector Camp.
“What is at stake is the future of the Anishinaabe. What is at stake is our land base. [1855 treaty areas are] where they want to put another tar sands pipeline. They are putting [those areas] at risk with a possible spill in our wetlands and lakes and rivers and the whole area. On a global level too, the added CO2 that Line 3 would put in the atmosphere would be equal to 50 new coal plants, so at a global level and climate change level it’s not good; and that would put our ecosystem, our seasonal and cultural activities out of balance.”
Nancy Beaulieu (Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe)
Northern Minnesota Organizer MN350, co-founder of RISE coalition and co-lead of White Earth Manoomin Protector Camp, White Earth Reservation.
“This is more than a pipeline, this is about treaty obligations. We are all treaty people, if we’re living here in the United States, Native or non-Native, we all have treaty obligations to co-exist as good neighbors and leave Nimaamaa-aki, Mother Earth in a better way that we found it. So treaties are not only here to protect us but for all living things here, and we have to learn to honor them in a good way, and walk with good intentions and strong hearts.”
Biidwewegiizhagookwe – Tania Aubid (Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe)
“What is at stake is the fresh clean water, our way of life, meaning our gathering, hunting, harvesting wild rice, the animals that we eat for nutrition and the berries, the plants and also the fresh clean air that we have.”
Gina Peltier (Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa)
Honor the Earth.
“I am everywhere and anywhere that help is needed. I am a body here to take good space to stop Line 3. Water is life. This is very important, it means everything, without water you can’t live; and this pipeline is going through 43 percent of North America’s clean water. Since water is a commodity on Wall Street now you know they want to destroy our water, so this is the fight for everyone’s livelihoods right here.”
Chi-noodin Ikwe – Simone Senogles (Red Lake Nation)
“I think whenever women are empowered, the world is a healthier, cleaner, safer place. And, Indigenous women need to have the power to affect change in our own lives and in our communities. [The fight to stop Line 3] means fulfilling my responsibility to take care of my homelands, everything is at stake— our water, our food, our land, our health, our future generations, the whole world.”
Fonda Smith (Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe)
American Indian family advocate for District 196 schools in Minnesota.
“When women step in I think they take the initiative to bring our younger generations, our younger kids into the picture, and they inform them about important environmental issues and causes, and it’s just a good way to get our kids and children involved in protecting Mother Earth.”
Sharon Day (Bois Forte Band of Ojibwe)
Executive director of Indigenous Peoples Task Force.
“Indigenous women’s leadership is important in everything that we do, but especially regarding the water because it is our responsibility to take care of the water. What’s at stake is clean water, our wild rice beds, our culture, our family dynamics, all of that is at stake and Line 3 is just another way that we are using fossil fuels to do damage to our waterways in Minnesota.”
Taysha Martineau (The Fond Du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa)
“We shouldn’t be living just to survive, we should be thriving. It is our duty as Indigenous women to stand up and say no more. No more missing women, no more extractive companies preying upon our people…we have to remain vigilant.We have to continue to show up, support, uplift and protect Indigenous children, Indigenous mothers, and Indigenous women.” *
*Taysha Martineau’s statement gathered during the Treaty People Gathering information call.
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