Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership
In a departure from our usual MEP voice, this article is an opinion piece that has been written from the author’s personal perspective.
I’ve been going to the Minnesota State Capitol for work, for volunteering, and for sightseeing, for the past seven years. For most of that time, it’s been open to the people of Minnesota, the people to whom it belongs. Understandably, its doors were shuttered last year due to the rampant COVID-19 pandemic, but then opened once again to the public this year.
This week, the Capitol complex was locked down again – this time, because Minnesotans were coming to stand together against the Enbridge Line 3 tar sands oil pipeline at the Treaties Not Tar Sands event.
If you’re a regular reader of this column, you’ll understand why we oppose Line 3, and what a disaster it would be for climate, water, and Anishinaabe (Ojibwe) culture. You’ll likely also know that this fight has been happening for a long time, with Line 3 only the latest incarnation of Big Oil’s Black Snake, as many indigenous organizers call it. And it’s the latest episode of a long, cruel history of settler colonialism trampling on the rights of Indigenous people.
The title “Treaties Not Tar Sands” refers to the rights of Anishinaabe tribes to gather wild rice, fish, and other resources from lands set by treaties in northern Minnesota. The Enbridge pipeline network snakes through treaty lands and reservations in the headwaters of the Mississippi and Lake Superior. One such pipeline was the site of the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history, and many of us understand how inevitable it is that the new Line 3 will leak its toxic tar sands oil, given the company’s track record. The construction process has already resulted in spills of industrial chemicals along the route, which has resulted in the Pollution Control Agency, not suspending work on the project, but doing an investigation, the results of which we will likely know after Line 3 construction is complete.. The State of Minnesota, however, made sure to lock down the Capitol to stop peaceful protestors from doing…whatever they thought we would do if allowed into our building.
On Wednesday, I went to the Capitol, one person among more than two thousand, and found the 115-year-old building surrounded by fencing, concrete barriers, and state troopers positioned every couple dozen feet. They weren’t wearing riot gear or holding batons, but the presence of the troopers felt like a message to those of us who came to peacefully protest: This building does not belong to you. This government does not belong to you. The law is not on your side.
Compared to the water protectors putting their bodies on the line to resist Line 3, we had it easy. I’ve heard news reports and firsthand testimony from friends and colleagues about resisters facing pepper spray, rubber bullets, mass arrests, and helicopters blowing dust directly into their lungs. Police have illegally blockaded Indigenous-owned lands in violation of their treaty rights.
Enbridge, it seems, has the entire state regulatory process and law enforcement apparatus to protect its interests. The people of Minnesota, especially the Anishinaabe, have ordinary folks willing to put their health and liberty on the line.
In the face of all this, Treaties Not Tar Sands has been a spirit-raising event, one that is forcing politicians to reckon with where they stand on Line 3. I watched from up the hill as a parade of resisters walked up John Ireland Boulevard to the front steps of the Capitol past teepees set up earlier in the week by Indigenous leaders. There were people of many races, ages, and backgrounds united in common cause to protect water and climate from this pipeline. It was bittersweet seeing kids attending – a mixture of pride for their willingness to act, and sadness that they have to because the adults in charge won’t protect their future.
The event started with a prayerful ceremony with singing and dancing, honoring the Anishinaabe water walkers and elders who have led the resistance to this pipeline. But the speakers made clear that all of us who showed up, or have opposed Line 3 are all honored in this fight, because it is a fight for all of us. They spoke of all the values we hold together – water, climate, tribal rights, the safety of Indigenous women – and why we must protect them from this pipeline. Despite what the pro-pipeline crowd may say, we’re not defined by our opposition to this pipeline, but by the dreams that unite us. We didn’t pick this battle, but we cannot and will not do otherwise.
I saw friends and colleagues at the rally, as well as legislators and other community leaders (though the Governor did not make an appearance). There were journalists documenting the story, and ordinary folks sharing their experience with the world. As the Line 3 fight has dragged on through multiple years, more and more people from around Minnesota, the country, and the world have joined their voices to oppose it. That solidarity hasn’t yet won the victory we need, but it’s keeping us going, and it’s helping to build power.
As I write this column, there are still resisters occupying the space in front of the Capitol after the permits have expired, holding space and keeping the eye of our state on this fight, facing overwhelming attempts by police to make them leave. They also demonstrated at the State Fair. They’re making it clear to Governor Walz and President Biden that arguments about simply “following the law” on this pipeline, as Walz said in an interview on Friday, aren’t acceptable, nor Governor Walz’s statement that stopping one pipeline won’t fix the climate crisis.
The laws of chemistry say that if we don’t stop building fossil fuel infrastructure and start retiring what we have now, we won’t recognize the planet we live on several decades from now. The Governor and the President have the power to stop this pipeline, and the responsibility to do whatever they can to protect our future.
Treaties Not Tar Sands reenergized many of us at a time when we need all the hope we can get, and it shined a spotlight on just how unjust it is that resisters have to fight this battle, faced with Enbridge’s money and the police power of the state. Line 3 is scheduled to come online very soon, and while it may be harder to shut down once operational, we will not stop pressuring leaders to change course before it’s too late. The fight will continue.
If you’re waiting for a signal to take action, this is it. Here are two simple things you can do right now:
- Visit the Resist Line 3 Twitter account to find out where resources are needed. Resisters frequently need food, supplies, and monetary donations.
- Contact Governor Walz and Lieutenant Governor Flanagan and President Biden and tell them that business as usual on this pipeline is unacceptable. Simply shepherding it through the process to allow it to be built falls short of climate leadership, when we need climate action more than ever.
Minnesota Reformer: 2,000 rally against Line 3 at state Capitol
Star Tribune: 2,000 protest Line 3 at Minnesota Capitol
Sahan Journal: Indigenous protesters, allies make a push in St. Paul to stop Line 3
MPR News: Line 3 opponents not giving up despite nearly complete pipeline project
For previous columns, visit mepartnership.org/category/loon-commons-blog/. If you would like to reblog or republish this column, you may do so for free – simply contact the author by replying to this email.