“Respect Us, or Expect Us”: Indigenous Women Continue to Fight Against Pipeline 3

Every day that Line 3 is operational, it carries twice as much oil as the previous line and has a climate impact equivalent to 50 coal-fired power plants.

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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. (Indigenous Environmental Network)

On Friday, October 1, Pipeline 3 became operational through Minnesota. Resistance efforts, largely led by Indigenous women and two-spirit individuals, have been fighting this tar sands pipeline for the last seven years. And many are looking to hold President Joe Biden accountable for promises made and broken.

“It’s with a heavy heart we receive the news that the U.S. has tragically failed once again to honor our treaties and protect the water that sustains all life on Mother Earth,” read a September 29 statement from the Indigenous Environmental Network. “The Line 3 fight is far from over; it has just shifted gears. Do not think we are going quietly into the night; we will continue to stand on the frontlines until every last tar sands pipeline is shut down and Indigenous communities are no longer targeted but our right to consent or denial is respected. … Respect us, or expect us.”

Those fighting to stop the construction of Line 3 and other pipelines point to a variety of risks. There are the dangerous environmental and health impacts, complete disregard of Indigenous sovereignty and in the case of Line 3, treaty infractions. Manoomin, or wild rice, is also being threatened. To the local Anishinaabe, manoomin is more than a food staple but a plant species with rights that must be protected. The construction of the pipeline endangers local women and girls and infringes upon the rights of the rice, the land, the water, the nonhuman beings and the people. 

Through the use of non-violent direct action, water protectors have been able to disrupt pipeline construction efforts. Some have been able to shut down terminals, testing facilities and pump stations along the pipeline. They have influenced some banks and insurance companies to stop backing oil infrastructure projects. They have staged protests at the home of Minnesota Governor Tim Walz and interrupted events of state politicians to call out their inaction in stopping Line 3. Taysha Martineau, a two-spirit Anishinaabe leader and founder of Camp Migizi, declined an award from NYC Climate Week because the event is sponsored by Wells Fargo and Bank of America—two of the largest funders of pipeline projects. 

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Activists outside Minnesota Governor Tim Walz’s house in St. Paul, Minn., on Saturday, May 22, to protest the Line 3 pipeline. (@ResistLine3 / Twitter)

Enbridge, the company behind Line 3, has been less than transparent about construction practices, timelines, budgets and possible harm that could come to the land, water and living beings in the path of the pipeline. There was no federal environmental impact statement (EIS) done by the Trump administration. And according to Honor the Earth director Winona LaDuke (White Earth Ojibwe), “The pipeline EIS that was done by the state was inadequate, and didn’t look at climate change, didn’t look at treaty rights, didn’t look at a spill assessment of Lake Superior, didn’t look at a ‘no build option’—all requirements under federal EIS.” 

Enbridge has been accused of violating the Clean Water Act and not abiding by permits. In September, Enbridge was fined $3.32 million by the Minnesota DNR for piercing an aquifer and not reporting it to the DNR. By breaking environmental laws, Enbridge threatened the health and safety of nearby wetlands as 24 million gallons of groundwater flowed out of the aquifer. There have been 28 frac-outs, according to Honor the Earth—when drilling fluid or mud containing chemicals are “accidentally” leaked into the surrounding water and soil. 

Since this summer, police presence and tactics have ramped up against water protectors. They began using pepper spray and many activists, such as Giniw Collective leader Tara Houska, were shot with rubber bullets. Police in Hubbard County have begun to use “pain compliance” techniques. These techniques, such as pressing fingers deep into pressure points around the face, were used in rounds against a group of water protectors recently and police went from one to the next, in succession. These techniques cause tremendous pain. More than that, at least two water protectors now have Bell’s palsy, or partial facial paralysis, because of the assaults. All the while, the Minnesota police and their weapons are being funded by (you guessed it): Enbridge

Those who put their bodies and lives at risk to fight at the front lines and were arrested now face state repression and mistreatment. Nearly 900 people have been arrested for peacefully protesting Line 3. Bail has increased, as have charges, from misdemeanors to gross misdemeanors or felonies. Some have been charged with trespassing on critical infrastructure, deemed a gross misdemeanor—laws passed on behalf of oil companies to specifically criminalize resistance to fossil fuel projects. In July and August alone, 80 water protectors were charged with felonies, such as theft for chaining themselves to construction equipment. Some counties have failed to provide public defenders to those arrested. 

Another concern with construction of these pipelines are the men who come in from outside the community to help build them. They often stay at “man camps,” or nearby hotels, and frequent businesses in local communities. Studies show that when men come into these communities for oil and gas work, the risk of violence against Native women and girls increases dramatically; indeed, women in Minnesota have reported violence from men along Line 3, from intimidation to sexual assault.

In February 2021, seven men were arrested in a sex trafficking sting in Itasca County, Minn., and two of those were pipeline workers. Just a few months later, two more pipeline workers were arrested after another sex trafficking sting operation in Beltrami County.

The Fossil Fuel Resistance Comes to Washington, D.C.: October 11-15

Despite Big Oil’s egregious offenses, the Biden administration “has sided with Enbridge,” said LaDuke. Many environmentalists feel Biden’s Build Back Better plan does not go nearly far enough to address the climate emergency and are calling for a plan to build back without fossil fuels

Between October 11 and 15, environmental organizations and activists will descend on Washington, D.C. and use non-violent direct action to pressure Biden to act on behalf of the people and protect Mother Earth.

“We are taking this fight to his front door, just as these pipelines have been pushed across our communities without consent. And we will continue to keep pushing him until we win,” said Jennifer Falcon, Indigenous Environmental Network’s communications coordinator. 

Siqiniq Maupin (Iñupiaq), executive director of Sovereign Iñupiat for a Living Arctic, reminded Biden that he “can be that game-changer.”

All too often, what it takes for people in the U.S. to notice the dangers inherent in oil are spills such as the ones in California or Texasthose that reach the shores of white communities, lands and people. But the global majority, especially Indigenous peoples, are the ones who suffer the most damage to land, health and waters—though wealthy countries of the Global North have done the most damage to the Earth, all in the name of profits.

“When the oil hit the shore on Sunday in my home state of California, one of the first things officials did was to close the beaches, because it is so dangerous to breathe the fumes or come into contact with that oil,” said Kassie Siegel, director of the Climate Law Institute and senior counsel at the Center for Biological Diversity. “And yet, communities are exposed to these very same chemicals every single day, with no warnings and no protection.”

She and 375 partners signed a legal petition to urge President Biden to stop approving fossil fuel infrastructure projects and to show that it is possible “to do what’s right and follow the law at the same time.”

Take Action

Despite the beginning of Line 3 operations last week, the resistance will not end. The fight is not over. Every day that Line 3 is operational, it carries twice as much oil as the previous line and will more than double Minnesota’s greenhouse gas emissions output with a climate impact equivalent to 50 coal-fired power plants. This is unacceptable. 

We are in a full-blown climate crisis and we all must work to stop it. 

So what can you do? Here are just a few suggestions:

Organizations to follow and support:

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About

Karla J. Strand is the gender and women’s studies librarian for the University of Wisconsin. She completed her doctorate in information science via University of Pretoria in South Africa with a background in history and library science, and her research centers on the role of libraries and knowledge in empowering women and girls worldwide. Tweet her @karlajstrand.