A small fire burns despite the 40 mile per hour winds that blow the foot of snow that’s falling into drifts all around. The fire is attended by one well bundled woman while others are inside a tent trying to keep warm during the March blizzard. This encampment outside of Leonard, Minnesota stands in the face of Mother Nature to protect it. The camp sits on top of pipelines illegally installed on Red Lake Nation land. They want the pipelines shut down and moved off their land and Enbridge must do so.
In the late 1949 Lakehead Pipe Line Company (now named Enbridge) was laying pipe for oil to flow from Superior, Wisconsin to Alberta, Canada. They had decided to build this pipeline (called the Alberta Clipper) through a parcel of land between the West and East Four Legged Lake. This parcel is owned by the Red Lake Nation as part of unsold ceded land given back to the Tribe in 1945. (Desjarlait) The exact story of how the company layed the pipe without getting permission for an easement is unclear. Three more pipes were eventually laid along the same stretch over the next 25 years. These four pipelines flowed millions of gallons of oil north to Canada every year.
The Alberta Clipper pipelines are now being reversed to flow oil down from the tar sands in Alberta. Enbridge is now seeking the government’s permission to expand the capacity of these 60 year old pipelines. In the area these pipelines that are supposed to be several feet underground are through marshlands. When they were laid they were placed on the surface and dirt was dumped over top of them through wetlands. Over time the dirt has eroded leaving exposed pipes that are run over by snow mobiles and mudders on a regular basis. (YaBasta “Tar Sands”) Between 1999 and 2010 Enbridge has had 804 spills along its pipelines releasing 6.8 million gallons of oil into the environment. (Girard 53)
The Red Lake Nation has demanded for years the removal of the pipelines from their land and Enbridge has refused. One thing that is unique about Red Lake Land is it has never been sold. All land within their territory is owned by the whole of the tribe. All homes built on the land are with permission of the tribal council. So when Enbridge made an offer for the easement of the land last year of around $300,000 the council rejected it outright.
After much debate and planning, on February 28th Marty Cobenais released a statement that signified the start of the encampment.
Today is the day. Enbridge Energy has been on the Red Lake Reservation since 1949. There has never been an easement for this land, so Enbridge has been trespassing on our ceded lands since then. This peaceful protest is against Enbridge Energy. We are going to occupy the land starting at 10:30 this morning. We plan to camp on this land until the pipelines cease to pump oil through them. (Desjarlait).
Since that date there has been a small sacred fire burning on top of land where the 4 pipelines are buried. The original hope was that Enbridge would shut down the pipeline after 3 days as federal regulations state that if there is a structure within a certain distance of a pipeline that it must shut down within 72 hours. The oil still flows.
The encampment called Nizhawendaamin Inaakiminaan (We love our land) or the Enbridge Blockade has faced 2 blizzards with over 2 feet of snow falling and wind chills of 40 below zero in its short history. All the time they have kept a sacred fire, blessed by chiefs, burning all this time. This encampment as seen its support from many native and non-native groups grow.
This effort can be seen as a part of a broader movement started in Canada called Idle No More. The Canadian government has passed several bills taking away water and land rights designed to prevent the first nations’ people from fighting the destruction of lands by the tar sands oil development. The most destructive of these, Bill C-45, included a provision to change the Navigable Waters Protection Act. This act used to protect 40,000 lakes and 2.5 million rivers form pollution, draining dry, and over construction. Now with bill C-45, it covers only 97 lakes and 62 rivers. (“Idle No More”).
Now rivers that once provided fishing and livelihoods for many Native Americans can be drained to be used for tar sands development. In 2011 Oil sands consumed 170 million cubic meters of water, enough for 1.7 million residences of Canada. Once the water is used in the extraction process the water cannot return to the ecosystem. It is too polluted so it sits in tailing lakes that are miles across or injected deep underground. (“Oilsands 101”).
The pollution and carbon disaster that is the Tar Sands is being fought on many fronts. Whether you agree with the environmental stance taken by these groups or not, the people encamped on top of the Alberta Clipper Pipeline have a legitimate gripe. The pipelines are on land Enbridge has no right to be on. They are breaking federal regulations every day the oil keeps flowing. Local and state governments have no jurisdiction to remove the protesters. The court processes started long before this protest but there is no legal ground for Enbridge to stand on.
Fires placed every four feet burned through the night. People using shovels and post diggers dug into the still frozen ground to make room for concrete poured to make footings. On a phone call protesters asked what would be considered a permanent structure that would cause Enbridge to shut down a pipeline. They answered “A house, a shed, a barn, a pool, a fence that is intended to be there permanently.” (YaBasta “Red Lake”) The fence that was erected does not keep anything in our out, it symbolizes stopping the flow of oil on lands trespassed on for over 60 years. The oil must stop flowing underneath the land of Red Lake Nation until this situation is resolved.
Desjarlait, Robert. “Occupy Enbridge: Taking a stand on Red Lake Sovereign Land.” Intercontinental Cry. Intercontinental Cry. 10 March 2013. Web. 1 April 2013
Girard, Richard. “Out on the Tar Sands Mainline: Mapping Enbridge’s Web of Pipelines.” Ottowa: Polaris Institute, March 2012. Web. 2 April 2013
“Idle No More.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 29 March 2013. Web. 2 April 2013.
“Oilsands 101: Water Impacts.” Pembina. Pembina Institute, n.d. Web. 2 April 2013
YaBasta 5000. “Red Lake Direct Action to Stop Illegal Enbridge Pipeline.” YouTube. YouTube, 12 March 2013. Web. 1 April 2013.
—. “Tar Sands in Minnesota.” YouTube. YouTube, 22 Dec 2013. Web. 1 April 2013.