Line 3 proposal shows willful ignorance of Ojibwe history and rights
Tuesday, August 08 2017
Written by Susan Allen, Jamie Becker-Finn, Peggy Flanagan, Mary Kunesh-Podein,
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In all the coverage of Enbridge Energy’s proposed Line 3 pipeline project, and in the recent and predictable pro-pipeline commentary by an Enbridge vice president, John Swanson, (Star Tribune: “Line 3 replacement is the safest option for northern Minnesota,” July 18) we have heard little regarding how Enbridge’s preferred route would specifically harm Native American people and communities.

The current environmental-impact statement briefly acknowledges the disproportionate harm to Native people but fails to answer many of the questions specific to Native communities. Enbridge acts as it pleases without regard for Native people, and we as the Native American Caucus in the Minnesota House oppose its current proposed pipeline route.

Enbridge gives the misleading impression that by abandoning the current corridor, it is somehow compromising with the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe. By Enbridge’s own admission, the current corridor is “congested.” The company now wants a pat on the back for choosing a route that snakes its way between reservation boundaries.

This new route highlights willful ignorance regarding Ojibwe history and rights in what we now call Minnesota. When the Ojibwe people signed treaties with the federal government, they explicitly retained the ability to harvest wild rice, hunt and fish on the waters and land of the ceded territory. There is a difference between reservation land and ceded territory. While skirting reservation boundaries is a nod to the affected tribal communities, Enbridge’s preferred route does not avoid the plants and wildlife Ojibwe people have a legal right to access. The new route is no compromise at all.

The importance of wild rice to Ojibwe culture, health, spirituality and history cannot be overstated. Wild rice is not just a crop that can be replanted. Wild rice is not just a food product.

It is clear that these truths have not been fully accepted by Enbridge or the authors of the environmental-impact statement.

Ojibwe people’s very existence in northern Minnesota is based on the existence of wild rice. Ojibwe spiritual teachings tell us that those ancestors traveled until they reached the place “where the food grows on the water.” That food is wild rice, manoomin, a unique grain that grows in very few places worldwide and differs greatly from the cultivated “wild rice” typically sold in grocery stores.

To thrive, wild rice requires very specific water and soil conditions. True wild rice is irreplaceable in the natural world.

When the inevitable oil spill occurs, there is no way to be certain that the affected waters and soils could ever be properly rehabilitated to allow wild rice to thrive again. Enbridge states that any damages would be “mitigated appropriately.” But appropriately according to whose point of view? And how can we trust that these hundreds of miles of pipelines will be monitored forever? Because of the extremely high cultural and spiritual importance of wild rice to Ojibwe people, it would be impossible for Ojibwe people to be made whole again if wild rice beds were destroyed.

For some of us, our ancestors have lived in northern Minnesota for centuries. We are now tasked with making sure we are thinking seven generations ahead so that the same resources – the water, the land, the wild rice – are available to our people for centuries to follow.

We reject the false premise that any new pipeline project absolutely must travel through northern Minnesota. Only a tiny percentage of the millions of barrels of oil that would be pumped through this Line 3 pipeline would even be used in Minnesota. The majority of the oil would continue on to final destinations in other states. There are alternatives that would not risk the vital, unique existence of wild rice in northern Minnesota and that would not place the preferences of an international oil company above Ojibwe people and their legal rights.

It is our hope that this message will not only be heard, but also respected.

Susan Allen, DFL-Minneapolis (Rosebud Sioux), Minnesota House of Representatives Native American Caucus;
State Rep. Jamie Becker-Finn, DFL-Roseville (Leech Lake Ojibwe);
Peggy Flanagan, DFL-St. Louis Park (White Earth Ojibwe); 
Mary Kunesh-Podein, DFL-New Brighton (Standing Rock Sioux), Minnesota House of Representatives Native American Caucus.

When simply wearing “Water is Life” becomes a threatening protest
Tuesday, April 04 2017
Written by Scott Russell,
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Cardboard hats in the shape of canoes lay on the floor at a public meeting on tar sands oil pipelines in Bemidji. Officials have not provided an explanation about why children were not allowed to wear them inside. (Photo by Frank Bibeau.)When did a cardboard canoe hat made by a child with the words “Water is Life” become something that needs to be suppressed for the public well being?

Quick background: On March 7, the U.S. State Department held a public meeting in Bemidji to consider a border crossing for a Canadian oil tar sands pipeline. There was a strong turnout and over-the-top security. I wrote a blog for the Sierra Club critical of the event. What I didn’t know at that time was Sanford Center security in Bemidji did not allow young children to wear their handmade cardboard canoe hats inside.

Frank Bibeau, an attorney for Honor the Earth, attended the Bemidji event and brought the issue to my attention. In an email exchange, Bibeau wrote: “I noticed that there was a table with confiscated items. On the floor was a bunch of canoe hats kids had made to wear at the public meeting. But the hats were taken from the kids and the security told them it was because they were signs.”

It is apparent that not all of the canoe hats had written words. Some of it is simply kid art. The question is, what lesson are the kids learning?

In a related incident, Indian Country Media Network (ICMN) reports that the National Museum of the American Indian staff recently asked Native American women to remove jackets for a similar reason. The women were in Washington, D.C. for the Native Nations Rise March, and their jackets “were adorned with patches and pins supporting water protectors and the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.” Some of the patches simply said: “Mni Wiconi: Water is Life.”

The Smithsonian has acknowledged its error. The State Department and Sanford Center security have not. The National Museum for the American Indian spokesperson Eileen Maxwell said it was incorrect for security to ask the women to remove their jackets with the patches and pins, according to the ICMN story.

“This situation has been clarified with our officers,” Maxwell added. “It is not the museum’s intention that people – and certainly Native people – ever feel unwelcome or unacknowledged here.”

Maxwell further noted that the Smithsonian does not prohibit political messages on clothing, but it does prohibit bringing in signs on posts and the displaying of banners of any nature in the museum.

“In this one instance, one officer misinterpreted this rule,” Maxwell said.

I have tried to get similar clarity on the decision to ban the canoe hats at the Bemidji event. I called and emailed Jeff Van Grinsven, head of security for the Sanford Center and Christopher Rich, Deputy Director for the Office of Policy and Public Outreach for the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs. Van Grinsven said in an initial phone interview that the canoe hats were not confiscated, and referred additional questions to the State Department. I emailed him a photo of the canoe hats along with follow-up questions. He has yet to respond.

The State Department’s Rich said in an email. “As for security at the meeting, we relied on the professional advice of local law enforcement officials. I was not aware that children’s canoe hats were confiscated, and am not sure why this would have occurred.”

In the initial phone call with Van Grinsven, I asked him why the security was so tight at the event. He said it was because Enbridge’s Bemidji office was shot up earlier. (According to a Duluth News Tribune story, someone shot Enbridge office’s front door and windows on the evening of Feb. 22-23. No one was hurt. Enbridge is the company proposing the pipeline project.)

I, for one, had not heard about the Enbridge shooting and I am sure I was not alone. It would have been helpful for security to give people an explanation of the perceived need for metal detectors. Attendees also should have received advanced warning about the excessive screening – that bags, purses and even water bottles would not be allowed. Lastly, the assumption seems to have been a pipeline opponent did the shooting. There does not appear to be any evidence that was the case, at least from media accounts.

To repeat from the earlier blog, the format was flawed. Attendees could ask State Department staff questions. But there was no public discussion, no opportunity to speak directly to decision makers or hear others testify. People had to submit comments in writing or speak privately to a stenographer.

I sent the State Department a link to the blog which outlined these criticisms. Here is part of Rich’s email response: “Thank you for sharing your blog and your concerns about the March 7 Bemidji meeting with us.  I am disappointed and sorry that you felt mistreated, and that you thought that the meeting failed to engage the public. We designed the open house format of the event specifically with public engagement in mind.  The purpose of the meeting was to help explain the findings of the environmental impact statement (the Line 67 Draft SEIS), and to elicit public comments on the proposed project.  We brought a number of experts who worked on the statement so that they could engage the public. From what we observed during the meeting, they were able to do this.  We received a large number of comments.”

This response is dismissive. He doesn’t acknowledge something that shouldn’t be that controversial – that people want to speak to someone in charge about their concerns. The State Department says, “from what we observed,” the public was successfully engaged. That’s not a very scientific poll. I am sure if they would have surveyed those who attended, they would have received a different answer.

Reprinted with permission from HealingMNStories at: .


Shame on you, Senator Klobuchar!
Wednesday, February 08 2017
Written by The Circle,
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The U.S. Forest Service just signed off on transferring 6,650 acres of public lands in the Superior National Forest to PolyMet. That’s where the ore body is located that the company wants to mine – on public land, YOUR land.

Senator Amy Klobuchar has some explaining to do. She sits on a committee that directly oversees Forest Service actions involving land exchanges and was petitioned by over 350 Minnesotans this past summer to push for congressional hearings on the matter. But she totally blew us off. 

This particular slice of the Superior National Forest is home to lots of plants, animals, wetlands and streams. Computer modeling shows that contaminated water from the mine will drain both south to Lake Superior and north to the Boundary Waters and that water treatment will be needed “indefinitely.”

It seemed reasonable to request congressional hearings. The petition didn’t even ask Senator Klobuchar to vote one way or the other on the issue. All we wanted was for our own senator, who happens to sit on a key committee, to give us a fair shake.
The stack of petitions was hand delivered to Klobuchar’s Virginia office in August. But Klobuchar ignored it – didn’t even send a letter to explain her views. It appears she’s only interested in listening to Minnesotans who are in the “U-Rah-Rah Mining” camp.
 But what about the rest of us who are also her constituents? What about Lake Superior and the Boundary Waters? What about all the plants, birds and animals who deserve to live and thrive in their native environment instead of being scraped away?
The Forest Service decision is subject to 30-day Congressional oversight requirements. The clock started ticking January 9th, so there’s still time to request hearings. Call Senator Klobuchar at 1-888-224-9043.
Laura Gauger, Duluth, MN

Open Letter to Speaker of the House Paul Ryan on ACA (Obamacare)
Wednesday, February 08 2017
Written by The Circle,
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Dear Mr. Speaker,
If successful, the Republican campaign to abolish the Affordable Care Act (ACA) would repeal authorization for the Indian Healthcare Improvement Act (IHCIA), which was included in the  ACA, and repeal other provisions that increased access to care for American Indians and Alaska  Natives. Destroying the ACA will make America sick again, including Native Americans who already are disproportionately burdened by disease. We write to urge Congressional Republicans to reconsider the harmful impacts of ACA repeal on the First Americans we represent.  

The Indian Health Service (IHS) provides healthcare for approximately 2.2 million Native  Americans and Alaska Natives in 36 states, including inpatient, emergency, ambulatory, and  dental care. IHS programs also provide preventive care aimed at reducing unacceptably high  rates of infant mortality, diabetes, hepatitis B, alcoholism, and suicide among American Indians  and Alaska Natives.  

The Indian Health Service also funds construction and maintenance of hospitals and health centers, as well as water supply and sanitation facilities. The IHS has documented decreased rates of certain diseases among American Indians and Alaska Natives thanks to improvements in sanitation facilities.    

The Indian Healthcare Improvement Act (IHCIA) was originally passed in 1976 but prior to passage of the ACA, authorization for the law’s programs had been lapsed for nearly a decade.  The ACA included a permanent authorization, as well as significant improvements to the IHCIA.  

The ACA expanded access to preventive and treatment services within IHS, including within urban areas in which the vast majority of Native Americans and Alaska Natives live. Those efforts included expanding mental health services, including programs related to youth suicide,  to create a comprehensive behavioral health and treatment program within IHS. The ACA also allowed Urban Indian Organizations and Tribal Organizations to apply for grants and contracts,  including through the Substance Abuse and Services Administration, for which they previously  were not eligible.  

The ACA also created a framework for Tribal health authorities to work with the Department of  Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs to offer health services to Native veterans. This  gives IHS a more prominent role in advocating for Indian Country within the Department of  Health and Human Services and improves cost collection procedures between IHS and federal health programs like Medicare and Medicaid.  

Perhaps most important, the ACA made IHS programs eligible for reimbursement through Medicare Part B, meaning that not only could hospital services be covered, but also services provided by physicians.  
Repealing the Affordable Care Act would erase these programs and services.  

Repealing the ACA threatens to turn the clock back for those 20 million Americans who gained health insurance thanks to the law; a time when those with pre-existing conditions could not get insurance and when young people were pushed off their parent’s insurance before they could afford coverage of their own.  

But for the First Americans, access to quality healthcare continues to lag far behind that available outside Indian Country. Repealing the ACA could set many American’s back years, but it could set the First Americans back decades, if not return them to the healthcare dark ages. This vulnerable population – already the victim of historic, shameful mistreatment by the United  States government – deserves better. We should be taking further steps forward toward  improving the health of American Indians and Alaska Natives, rather than taking a giant leap  back by repealing the Affordable Care Act.

Raul M. Grijalva, Ranking Member, House Natural Resources Committee
Frank Pallone, Jr., Ranking Member, House Energy and Commerce Committee

Bad Hunter: The Inner Thinkings of the Rare Native Vegan
Monday, January 09 2017
Written by Maggie Lorenz,
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In March of last year I made a decision that had been a long time coming and has changed the course of my life. It’s something that I avoided doing for a long time because it threatened my sense of identity as a Dakota woman – it set me apart from some of our deepest and longest held traditions. But typical to my personality, I did it because I want to have my (vegan) cake and eat it, too. In March, I became an Indigenous Vegan. A Bad Hunter. Like a unicorn, I became something people didn’t think existed in real life.

Why? Is it because I didn’t grow up with my ways? Is it because I am half white? Is it because I have some class privilege that allows me to be super picky with my food? I mean, maybe. Maybe those things have something to do with it. I yam what I yam (and yams are a great vegan food). But the thing is, as I think about our beautiful traditions and teachings, I don’t see being vegan as blasphemous to our culture, and I’ll tell you why.

Most people choose to go vegan for one of three reasons: environment, ethics, and health. My reasons for being vegan are in this exact order. Being a typical Indian woman, I put everyone else before me. Like our incredible Water Protectors holding ground at Standing Rock, you can be sure they aren’t there for themselves. They are there for their kids, their people, the millions of people downriver, the generations to come, and the plants and animals that also depend on a clean river system. As Indian people, our circle of compassion has always included non-humans– the four legged, winged, finned, the plants, water, earth and sky. It is in adhering to this tradition that being vegan makes sense as a Dakota woman.

Right now, animal agriculture is responsible for more than half of global greenhouse gas emissions. That’s right. More than half! It dwarfs the entire transportation system’s 13% impact with a staggering 51% of emissions being a direct result of raising animals for food. As a vegan, you can literally cut your carbon footprint in half. If you want to save this planet for future generations, reducing your shower time just ain’t gonna cut it.

For example, to produce one hamburger, 660 gallons of clean water was used in the process. That’s the same as showering for 2 months. For everyone’s sake, take your showers and just skip the burger. And think about this: the waste from a mid-size diary operation creates as much annual waste as a city of over 400,000 people. And here I am rinsing out my dairy milk jug to recycle it because I care about waste. It just wasn’t adding up. I knew the environmental impact was incredible, but if I went vegan, I’d be THAT lady. I did NOT want to be THAT lady.

Talking about the environmental impact of animal agriculture has gone over pretty well with non-vegans, but nothing shuts down a conversation quite like bringing up the ethical implications of eating animals. Stick with me here, I promise not to be THAT lady. But here’s the thing I have come to realize. The way our meat gets to our dinner plate today is nothing like the process our ancestors used. On a basic level, we all know this. Most of us urban, and even rez Indian’s aren’t out there hunting our own free roaming buffalo, elk, deer, and rabbits (although some of us do). But let’s face it, even if we do eat wild hunted game, for most of us, it’s not where most of our meat comes from.

So let’s think about that for a second. And I should say, I am not one of those vegans who think that killing is immoral. I am not vegan because I believe killing animals is inherently wrong. This kinda ticks off a lot of other vegans, and sometimes they tell me that this belief means I am not really vegan. Even so, there are societies of people who still survive by hunting and gathering and I don’t find any ethical problems with that. I don’t find any ethical problems with the fact that our ancestors were a hunter-gatherer society. Some vegans even think it’s a problem that lions eat zebras. Well, I don’t. So, if I don’t find killing animals to be ethically problematic, then what is the problem?

I strongly believe that if you don’t have to take a life, you shouldn’t. This belief is in line with our Dakota ways. For example, the highest honor one could receive in battle was counting coup on your enemy, not taking their life. Obviously our ancestors ate animals to survive. They used the furs and skins, bones and teeth, flesh and organs. Nothing went to waste. The animals we depended on for survival were honored and revered. Fast forward a couple hundred years, and we don’t have to eat animals to survive. We don’t need meat to get protein and iron. We don’t have to drink milk for calcium and vitamin D. We have fully stocked grocery stores year round, and black beans are a beast of protein. We don’t need the skins of other animals to stay warm and sheltered. We don’t need horses and dogs to do our work for us, that’s what that old pick up truck is for. So, there is the problem of taking a life when it’s unnecessary for our survival.

But wait, there’s more. Once you allow yourself to see the reality of life for these animals on Factory Farms, and what kind of death they meet at the slaughterhouse, you can’t un-know that reality. They are treated as mere units of production, not the living, breathing, feeling creatures that they are. No honor, no reverence. These animals are treated worse than dirt. The complete lack of regard for their lives is so far out of line with our teachings of respect, compassion, humility – but the industry is good at hiding what happens in those big, stinking, windowless animal warehouses. Hate me for it, but I am here to remind you of what happens in there. Because as Indian people, we know more than anyone what it feels like to be voiceless and treated as if your life doesn’t matter.

Finally, let’s get selfish and think about our own health. Did you know that milk and hamburgers are responsible for more than 30% of all breast cancer cases? (Research Bovine Leukemia Virus and breast cancer). Did you know that milk actually leaches calcium from your bones, which is why America consumes the most dairy and yet, has the highest rate of osteoporosis in the world. Did you know that quinoa and wild rice are complete proteins? Did you know that three out of the four leading causes of death are related to diet, and that a plant based diet can prevent and in many cases, reverse, those diseases? Did you know there is plenty of evidence that a plant-based diet can reverse type 2 diabetes? 

I forced this diet on my husband because I don’t want to see him suffer. I want to grow old together. I am forcing it on my kids too, because I love them and want them to be healthy and happy. Did you know that the hormones in meat and dairy are linked to early onset puberty, childhood cancer, and an array of developmental problems? Don’t take my word for any of this, do your own research. All the information is out there.

First thing: Get educated. Got Netflix? You can start by watching Cowspiracy, a documentary about the environmental impacts of animal agriculture. Or Forks Over Knives, which delves into the health benefits of a plant-based diet. If you want to know what’s happening to the animals on Factory Farms, you can check out Earthlings on YouTube, but be warned, it has been called “The Vegan Maker” because it’s really hard to watch and continue eating animals. Another YouTube channel that provides short videos with great info on all areas of veganism is Bite Size Vegan, or you could check out the health related videos by Dr. Greger from

Second thing: Get cooking. Need some vegan recipes? Try or I get most my recipes from those two websites. Or you could just friend me on FaceBook, because I am always posting recipes. Just google “Vegan Recipe for _________” and you’ll see that being vegan doesn’t mean you have to miss out on your favorite foods.

So here’s the thing. I’m vegan, and I think you should join the club. But if you aren’t ready for that leap, do what I did for years before taking the plunge. Take steps. First thing I did was cut out dairy. Most Indian’s are lactose intolerant, so giving it up will save you from some GI distress, and save your family from your cheese farts.

After that, you might want to cut down on how often you eat meat, or maybe you start only buying grass-fed, organic, or free range meat and eggs from a local farmer. Maybe you cut out eating eggs and chicken because you love birds and want to start there. But I am asking you to start making changes towards a plant-based diet because it is the ONLY sustainable option to feed the 7+ billion people on this planet.

The world has changed so much in the last two hundred years it is barely recognizable. Indigenous cultures, however, are slow to change, but they can and do when it makes sense to do so. Women never used to sundance or wipe down in sweat, but circumstances changed, and with that, we changed our traditions. So too, have the circumstances changed with our population, food, and health. With those changes, we have to consider what is the best thing we can do to for the Oyate, Unci Maka, and Seven Generations.

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