As Enbridge pushes ahead with its plans for the Line 5 tar sands pipeline, Indigenous women remain vigilant and organize to prevent its development.
Earlier this year, Indigenous women leaders from the Great Lakes region sent a letter to the Army Corps of Engineers citing concerns over the social and ecological impacts of a new Enbridge tar sands pipeline project, Line 5. The women noted Enbridge’s track record for oil spills and aquifer breaches, as well as concerns regarding tribal usufructuary rights, irreversible damage to local biodiverse ecosystems and waterways, and rises in gender-based violence and human trafficking—all serious issues when the same company constructed the Line 3 pipeline in Minnesota last year.
The Line 5 pipeline was originally built in 1953, and continues to operate nearly 20 years past its engineered lifespan, transporting approximately 23 million gallons of crude oil each day through northern Wisconsin, Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, and under the Straits of Mackinac. Already this pipeline has spilled over a million gallons of oil. Enbridge claims its new pipeline would only be a replacement project, meant to support ongoing gas needs—yet, studies show that Line 5 would have little to no effect on current gas prices.
The proposed pipeline expansion is set to route through the lands and territories of multiple tribal nations, crossing hundreds of waterways, including the Kakagon and Bad River Sloughs, vast wetlands that contain the Great Lakes’ only remaining coastal wild rice fields. These sloughs, bogs and coastal lagoons represent 40 percent of Lake Superior’s coastal wetlands. In addition, the Great Lakes hold 95 percent of the fresh surface water in the U.S., providing more than 30 million people with drinking water.
In 2019, the Bad River Tribe filed a federal lawsuit against Enbridge, demanding the company discontinue the line and remove it from their territories. Despite legal opposition from Enbridge, tribal nations and Indigenous leaders persist. In 2021, all 12 federally-recognized tribes in Michigan requested President Biden shut down the pipeline.
Over 80 percent of the biodiversity left on Earth is stewarded by Indigenous peoples, who are standing on the front lines to protect water, air, land, communities and the climate. Supporting Indigenous peoples as they lead efforts to protect biodiversity and uphold sovereign treaty rights is central to the climate and environmental crises the world is facing.
This past year we’ve seen more of the terrible realities of the climate crisis around the world. Fossil fuels lie at the root of this worsening climate disruption, accounting for over 75 percent of global emissions. But despite calls by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and International Energy Agency to end fossil fuel expansion, more than 24,000 kilometers of oil pipelines are planned for construction throughout the world. With each new project, meeting the 1.5 goal of the Paris Climate Agreement becomes almost impossible.
Communities continue to resist fossil fuel pipelines and infrastructure to avert the worst impacts of escalating interlocking crises. As Enbridge pushes ahead with its plans for Line 5, Indigenous women leaders and allied organizers are remaining vigilant, continuing to organize to prevent its development.
Below, meet 10 Indigenous women who are fighting to stop Line 5. Their resistance effort is a critical fight for Indigenous rights, water, climate, and the rights and livelihoods of present and future generations.
All photos and statements were collected by Devon Young Cupery and Cheryl Barnds, on behalf of the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN), with the exception of Jannan J. Cornstalk, collected by Ashley Guardado from the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN). The quotes have been edited for clarity and length
Currently, there is an opportunity to stand in solidarity with Indigenous women from the Indigenous Women’s Treaty Alliance, facilitated by the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN), who have been meeting with the Army Corps of Engineers over the past months. The public is encouraged to submit a comment by Oct. 14 to the Army Corps of Engineers calling for them to conduct a maximum scope Environmental Impact Statement for the proposed Line 5 tunnel expansion under the Straits of Mackinac and a full Federal Environmental Impact Statement for the entire Line 5 Pipeline. Submit a comment here.
Jannan J. Cornstalk | Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians, Michigan
That water is our relative, and we will do whatever it takes to protect our water, our sacred relative.
“There needs to be a shift, to ensure that tribes and Indigenous communities are part of the process, not after the fact but from the very beginning. That’s consultation.
“Our very lifeways and cultures hang in the balance as pipelines like Line 5 get rammed through our territories and water. These are our lifeways. When that water is healthy enough, that rice is growing—that not only benefits our communities, but that benefits everybody up and down stream.
“The Army Corps and Biden administration must put people over profits. Allowing Line 5 to proceed is cultural genocide. The disturbances go deeper than you are hearing. That water is our relative, and we will do whatever it takes to protect our water, our sacred relative.”
Carrie Huff Chesnik | Oneida Nation, Wisconsin
Everything that we do to that water, we’re doing to ourselves.
“Water is what sustains our life, we must have respect and treat her well. It has to go beyond protecting her, but that’s the issue, that’s not even happening. So everything that we do to that water, we’re doing to ourselves.
“We must wake up and no longer allow any extractive industries, any chemical industries, anything, to threaten water. It’s our existence. Women take care of the water. We grow our babies in that sacred water, that was our first medicine. In this time, it’s incredibly important that the women stand and protect the sacred, as is our responsibility.”
Philomena Kebec | Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, Wisconsin
“The fact is Line 5 bisects Bad River Reservation in a way that is really toxic. Even if it’s moved off the reservation to the reroute area, it’s still all coming at Bad River. This is an existential threat to the Bad River community.
“As an Indigenous people, we have nowhere else on earth to be Bad River people; we need other people to come and help, to learn about this, to write to the administration, to get involved in the Army Corp processes, and educate other people in their area about what a dangerous situation we are in as Bad River people with this ‘legacy project.'”
Sandy Gokee | Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, Anishinaabe, Wisconsin
It doesn’t mean we don’t kill animals or cut down trees, but there’s a way to do it and a way not to do it. By frivolously wasting those beings’ lives, that’s genocide.
“Line 5 is a violation of our treaty rights. It’s a violation of the agreement we made with the federal government, the United States, which supersedes state permitting. I don’t see how state permitting can be adequate for something that risks our treaty rights. When that line leaks it’s going to depreciate, deplete, destroy and contaminate our food, our water, the ones that we never gave up.
“Not only are they resources—I don’t really like that word because it seems like it’s a thing to use, rather than being a thing to take care—but those are beings who take care of us, and just like family, we take care of each other. It doesn’t mean we don’t kill animals or cut down trees, but there’s a way to do it and a way not to do it. By frivolously wasting those beings’ lives, that’s genocide.”
Rene Ann Goodrich | Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, Wisconsin
Violence perpetrated on the land and on the water directly contributes to the violence that’s perpetrated on Indigenous peoples and also targets our girls, our women and our two-spirits by the influx of the man-camps.
“The work of Line 5 is very concerning. It’s the work of the extractive industry. That’s concerning within itself and it brings a lot of issues, especially with the work we do with missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and two-spirits (MMIW). We’re currently in our 10th year of bringing awareness of this ongoing epidemic. It has grown into a crisis situation with the violence that is perpetrated against our women, girls and two-spirits, but also our men.
‘With that work, we identify the factors contributing to MMIW, and one of them is the extractive industry and the pipeline. That would be Line 5. The pipelines contribute to the violence towards Indigenous women. Native lives are tied to native lands; violence perpetrated on the land and on the water directly contributes to the violence that’s perpetrated on Indigenous peoples and also targets our girls, our women and our two-spirits by the influx of the man-camps.”
Jennifer Boulley | Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, Wisconsin
“Line 5 is proposed to go through Bad River territory. As you know, my family has a history of being wild rice gatherers, and this incredibly threatens our food sovereignty – the manoomin, our wild rice. And so many other things are threatened, our water, the animals we rely on for sustenance, the fish we rely on for sustenance–this beautiful place here that we see. We’re all included in that.
“Apart from that, further down the line, the leaks that have already happened and will happen in the future are going to be devastating to the water, to the land, to the people. For a line that is not necessary, the propaganda that’s been spread about needing it for infrastructure, for transportation, it’s just not true.”
Carolyn Gougé | Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe, Wisconsin
One day we could be playing and go out of our houses, and look at the water, and there might be nothing but black oil and dead fish on the shores.
“Line 5 is scary because ultimately, something could happen. It could take away the life that’s around us.
“It could be a very big impact on me: My family are fishermen. The water is our playground, and no matter where Line 5 is, if there is a breakage with oil going into the water, it could do a lot of damage. One day we could be playing and go out of our houses, and look at the water, and there might be nothing but black oil and dead fish on the shores.”
Gina Peltier | Black Bear Clan, Anishinaabe, Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, Minnesota
“Line 5 is going to impact the whole United States. We have seen through Line 3, the destruction that Enbridge will cause and has caused, and it is very important that we stop not only Line 3 but Line 5 and Enbridge. They have fracked out into multiple rivers, and they have punctured multiple aquifers, and they are just negligent with our land and water and they cannot be trusted to run anything in our country. They are affecting millions of lives, endangering millions of lives and cannot be trusted.
“Enbridge doesn’t care who they hurt while they’re making money. They have destroyed land and water over and over and over again. And it’s time to stop. Not enough of us are taking a stand to stop Enbridge, and if we all come together in a good way, we can stop Enbridge. We can stop everyone who wants to destroy our land and water.”
Lisa Ronnquist | Fond du Lac Band and Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, Minnesota
They’re sucking the water from Mother Earth, and putting holes in her and dirtying her. She’s alive, she’s real. … Water is life. If they mess up our water, what are we going to do?
“Stop Line 5. Stop it. Save the water. The more these pipelines go through our water, it is depleting. They don’t believe in climate change, and it’s happening. It’s happening everywhere. They’re sucking the water from Mother Earth, and putting holes in her and dirtying her. She’s alive, she’s real. All these things around us have spirits. This tree here could have the spirit of our ancestors, because water is life. If they mess up our water, what are we going to do?”
Debra Topping | Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, Minnesota
“Being that I’m from Fond du Lac Reservation, Line 3 has already gone through. We already know the devastation that it has done there, and without any state agency oversight, it’s a free-for-all. The only people out there are Water Protectors. We have the community, and we can do it stronger together.
“We all know we are one, and we understand we can’t live without water. So this is our sacrifice, right? To educate others, get things done right. I know for myself, my husband and I have gathered manoomin for 40 years. So we are blessed to teach that to our daughters and grandsons. I didn’t know it was a treaty right, I knew it was a creator right. So I know it’s my job to protect that.”
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