The Indian Wars Are Not Over


web-the indian wars are not over 1.jpgOn an overcast, and quiet midday

afternoon, 50 or so Anishinaabeg from ricing families and their

friends gathered at Big Bear Landing on the shore of Big Rice Lake.

It is 138 years to the day of the infamous Battle of the Little Big


Some would say that the odds were not

great for the Lakota at that point and some might say the same now,

for the Anishinaabeg. The Ojibwe hold ricing poles, knockers and

carry their canoes to the lake, carefully placing them on the edge.

Michael Dahl, has called us together to talk about our manoomin, our

wild rice and this lake. This lake is the most bountiful wild rice

lake in Minnesota – four miles long and two miles wide. A solid bed

of wild rice on a good year. There is nothing like it. Really.

It’s an epic moment. The newest

version of the Indian Wars is coming towards Rice Lake. This Seventh

Cavalry incarnation is a set of fossil fuel and extractive mining

proposals, capped by some pipelines – big ones headed every which

way across the heart of Indian Country. Kinder Morgan and Enbridge

Gateway to the North in what is called British Columbia and into the

Salish Sea, Energy East projected to go from West to East to Miq’Mac

territory the Keystone XL, Alberta Clipper, Line 9 and the Sandpiper,

are all intended to move fossil fuels – fracked oil and tar sands

oil across some territories, which have no pipelines.

The companies, Kinder Morgan,

TransCanada and Enbridge, with the largest armament, are intent upon

reaching their ports: Superior, St. Johns, Kitimat and Vancouver.

They are, however, opposed.

June, or the “Strawberry Moon” in

Ojibwe country, has been good for the Enbridge Corporation. They

received the approval of Premier Steven Harper for the very

contentious Gateway Pipeline, despite a plebiscite in the city of

Kitimat opposing the pipeline, the opposition of 140 First Nations,

huge numbers of fisherman and a good percentage of British Columbia.

That was, however to be expected.

After all, Steven Harper has shown immense support for energy

companies, little support for the environment and none for Native

nations. On the heels of that victory, the Alberta Clipper line was

approved by the Public Utilities Commission of Minnesota, clearing

one more obstacle for the company, to proceed in doubling their tar

sands oil pipeline from 400 to 800,000 barrels per day.

Then, a bit of icing on the cake, the

North Dakota Public Utilities Commission approved the first 500 miles

of the Sandpiper Line, intended to carry 375,000 barrels per day of

Bakken oil across Minnesota in an entirely new route than the other

eight pipelines that cross the state. That is a lot of oil headed

across the Lake country, that’s for sure.

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“There is nothing like this lake

anywhere,” Blaze Neeland, a ricer, told me. “This lake has rice

forever, we eat from this lake, fish at this lake and it is our

life.” Elder Joanne LaFriniere, remembers ricing since she was 16

years-old on this lake. It is the lake of the Anishinaabeg

prophecies. That tradition continues and today, she names the

pincherries, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, chokecherries,

which all grown in the lands which surround the lake. “One oil

spill and it is gone, our whole life is gone.” Alfred Fox, Chief

Conservation Officer for the White Earth tribe came to the gathering,

he told stories about how the people used to gather, dance and then

work together to build up the landings and the access to the lake.

The lake is a national treasure for the Anishinaabeg and the proposed

Sandpiper line would go within the reservation boundary, within the

watershed which feeds the lake and, about a mile from the Rice Lake


“It stops here.” Michael Dahl

explains. Dahl prays for a long time in Anishinaabeg to the rice, the

lake, the beavers, the muskrats, the Thunderbeings and thanks all for

being there. Dahl has been to each of the Public Utilities Commission

hearings and does not seem convinced that the PUC or Enbridge has

taken seriously the unanimous opposition of the Ojibwe to the

Enbridge proposal. “I don’t expect them to come here,” he said

of the PUC, despite the formal request of the White Earth Tribal

government for PUC hearings on the reservation. Thus far, none have

been scheduled. “I am here for the rice, not for Enbridge,” he

tells us.

I can’t help thinking that the

Seventh Cavalry of 139 years ago had a lot of guns and was pretty

arrogant. I also can’t help thinking that the Indian Wars are not

over yet.