Water Protectors, Monster Slayers and the Enbridge Hearings
Wednesday, December 06 2017
Written by Winona LaDuke,
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For the past four years Dawn Goodwin, of Rice Lake, Minn., has driven thousands of miles, and missed weeks of family time and work to challenge the rights of a Canadian oil pipeline company – Enbridge, which threatens Anishinaabe water. The past three weeks of November were no exception as Goodwin drove to St. Paul to testify at the Minnesota Evidentiary hearing on Line 3.  

Goodwin was joined by Bill Paulson of White Earth, Minn., and many tribal members who also drove from the reservations of the north. Legal teams representing White Earth, Leech Lake, Fond du Lac, Mille Lacs and Red Lake had also come to oppose the pipeline. They were joined by landowners, environmental groups and a group of Youth Climate Intervenors, who were asking what the future will look like for them

What we face is the largest pipeline project in the US, a Canadian pipeline company with billions of dollars, which was defeated last year by our community – both Native and non-Native. This is an epic legal and regulatory case, and is a story of Modern Day Monster Slayers.    

Over the past months, the battlefield has bloodied. Enbridge is now buying advertisements throughout Minnesota, and rolling in trucks of employees and would-be-employees, who are batting hard at witnesses at the hearings. In the meantime, the state of Minnesota seems to be finding more and more concerns about the proposed pipeline, as the Department of Commerce in November recommended against issuing a permit for the 915,000-barrel-a-day tar sands project.

Ojibwe Grandmothers from Fond du Lac cooked food each day for those of us who had traveled far for the meeting, and held strong at the rear of the room – a watchful eye on all. Levi Brown, Leech Lake’s Natural Resource Manager, brought in 160 statements by tribal members who do not want a new line through that reservation and want the old line cleaned up.

It is history being made and it would be nice if we could share it. Although these twelve hearings were part of a public process and a matter a public record, an administrative law judge ruled that there was to be no photography, audio recording, or video recording allowed in the Public Utilities Commission hearing room during the proceedings. That means that the people who are the most impacted by the proposed pipeline – like Goodwin – must drive hundreds of miles to listen to a hearing on what is essentially their future. Many were upset about the decision, including those who could have livestreamed the whole proceeding instead of having to offer their own summaries of events during breaks or at the end of each day.

The evidentiary hearings differed from the public comment hearings in that they revolved around pre-filed testimony. Only formal expert witnesses for Enbridge and intervenors could make comments, and were subject to cross examination by members and attorneys from opposing parties. The public was welcome to attend the hearing but could not make comments.

Paulson and Goodwin were both expert witnesses. Though it wasn’t easy to plan the trip to testify due to unpredictable scheduling on the part of the state and long distances, Paulson and Goodwin both made it to St. Paul. With encouragement and support of friends and allies, both worked past the drain on their already limited resources to make sure their voices were heard by the state.

Paulson told administrative law judge Ann O’Reilly, “Enbridge and the State of Minnesota appear to refuse to acknowledge the impact on the future of the Anishinaabe from the construction of the proposed Line 3 tar sands oil pipeline. The expansion of this fossil fuel system has not demonstrated an ability to prevent catastrophic contamination and, if approved, could ultimately end the existence of the Anishinaabe people by robbing us of our spiritual and physical needs. I ask the courts, how can I best help your honor, the other parties in the case, and all others that need to know, what it means to value and feel Mother Earth?  I find it hard to explain our connection to the plants, animals, and our sacred lands. If the wild rice is harmed, we are harmed, if the wild rice disappears, we disappear.”

Speaking on the topic of connection to nature often brings indigenous Water Protectors back to the same conclusion; our values are simply not the same as those of the state. In fact, the state’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) suggests that the Anishinaabeg can essentially adjust if there is a huge spill, and does not provide any analysis of a no-build option; an essential component of a comprehensive EIS. As well, the state EIS, projected to be approved – but lacking significant Anishinaabeg analysis – isolates this proposed project from the impact of the tar sands mining which would feed the proposed pipeline, and the downpipe impacts

To better understand and represent the Anishinaabe analysis, the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe and Honor the Earth (a non-profit organization founded to raise awareness and financial support for Indigenous environmental justice)  created the Anishinaabe Cumulative Impact Assessment (ACIA). This is a nearly three-hundred page document that explores the Anishinaabe worldview and applies it to the Line 3 project in a way the state of Minnesota was unable to do. The ACIA takes a long view – historically and seven generations ahead – and gives honor to our Nibi (water) and those as a first medicine.  

Furthermore, it gives greater weight to the conditions of our waters – what they should be, what they have become due to the current levels of industrial pollution, and what they might be with impacts from the Line 3 project. The document is currently in its draft form and available to view on the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe website at Input and comments are welcome and can be submitted to ACIA This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it The comment period will remain open until February 2, 2018.

On the heels of the recent South Dakota Keystone spill of 210,000 gallons, it is now more important than ever for our communities to stay engaged in the fight. Nonetheless, days after Keystone’s largest spill yet, it’s next phase was approved by state officials in Nebraska, making room for the revived Keystone XL project to move forward.

According to Nebraska law, the spill couldn’t be taken into consideration while making the decision on whether to approve KXL because pipeline safety is a matter for PHMSA, and therefore federal and beyond the state’s purview. It is yet another indication of the system’s bias in favor of the fossil fuel industry, much like the no-recording policy for the Line 3 evidentiary hearings.

As the pipeline moves closer to approval, public participation in the process seems to grow more and more difficult. Where in the beginning, meetings were held in 22 small town communities, we have come now to the point of twelve days of hearings in St. Paul, nowhere near the demographically poor populations the pipeline will affect most. These closed hearings, though supposedly a matter of public record, are now only accessible through the obtuse state of Minnesota docket system, which will lead to formally submitted testimony and the records submitted by transcriptionists employed by the state.

Goodwin says she told the judge a lot about the toxic properties of diluted bitumen and what it would do in a marine environment if it were to spill in one of our Minnesota lake systems. She told the judge, “The certificate of need should not be granted due to the toxic and harmful properties of diluted bitumen.”

It’s unfortunate that there will be no image or video for anyone to share Goodwin’s words, voice, and strength across Turtle Island. But we do have a docket number: PL-9/CN-14-916 (Certificate of Need) and PL-9/PPL-15-137 (Route), and in the months ahead, we will all need to be Water Protectors.


Black Snake Chronicles: KXL Returns and Wiindigo Economics
Wednesday, December 06 2017
Written by Winona LaDuke,
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As the plagued Keystone Pipeline spills 200,000 gallons of oil near the Sisseton Dakota reservation, the Nebraska Public Service Commission made a convoluted approval of a permit. In the meantime, the Dakota, Lakota and allies stand strong.

“Nothing has changed at all in our defense of land, air and water of the Oceti Sakowin Lands,” Faith Spotted Eagle told hundreds gathered for the signing of the Treaty to Protect the Sacred on Nov. 20 in Lower Brule, S.D.  “If anything, it has become more focused, stronger and more adamant after Standing Rock.”

Oyate Win Brushbreaker, a 97-year-old elder reminds those present,  “Reaffirm the boundaries of that treaty. Keep out that black snake you have been talking about.”

The Gathering to Protect the Sacred was sponsored by the Braveheart Society of Women, Wiconi Un Tipi, Ihanktonwan Treaty Committee, and Dakota Rural Action, and brought together two hundred water protectors.

This is a story about Wiindigoo Economics, or Wasichu (white man) Economics, if you like. We can say that it begins in the US, where a fossil fuel economy rules, or we can say that it begins in Canada, where 90% of the value of the Canadian dollar, the looney, is based on tar sands. Now that’s a stupid idea. Simply stated, we have Canada with all the oil company allies, and the land locked province of Alberta, and no way to get all that to market. This is also a story about how that is unlikely to work out for Canada, because we are stopping them. We are killing the Wiindigoo.


The Keystone and the Spill

What the ..? The Keystone Pipeline is not fully operational yet and it can’t even operate safely. The mid-November South Dakota Keystone spill – well, the last five Keystone spills – were not supposed to happen.  That’s what they all tell us, after all it’s new pipe and such. TransCanada’s June 2006 pipeline risk assessment found no reason for alarm: “...the estimated occurrence intervals for a spill of 50 barrels or less occurring anywhere along the entire pipeline system is once every 65 years,…. Applying these statistics to a 1-mile section, the chances of a larger spill (greater than 10,000 barrels) would be less than once every 67,000 years.”

So, to be clear, Keystone has now had at least a dozen spills. They are all going down the line in succession. One journalist asked if the pipeline was passing a kidney stone.   In a 2011 analysis, University of Nebraska professor Dr. John Stansbury estimated there would be at least two major spills per year, some potentially releasing as much as 180,000 barrels. Told you so. 

It appears pipeline spills and the public utilities commissions of Nebraska (giving a go ahead for the Keystone), South Dakota and Minnesota are in the thick of the confusion – Wiindigoo Economics. Pipeline spills are the new norm. In 2016, there were 220 “significant incidents”,  or pipeline spills, in the US – with 3,032 since 2006. Those provide a stark reminder of the environmental hazards of an aging pipeline infrastructure carrying fossil fuels, and that new pipes have catastrophic leaks. The costs of these leaks since 2006 has amounted to $4.7 billion. (I’m not sure on the clean up costs.)

What about the “watchdogs”? Inspectors for leaks are few and far between, with unclear regulatory jurisdiction. The US now has 553 pipeline inspectors (208 federal inspectors and 345 state inspectors). They are responsible for nearly 5,000 miles of pipeline each. These inspectors work for the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA). It is high risk, Pipeline Roulette.


Wiindigoo Economics and Pipelines

While Donald Trump is busy approving all these pipelines, another reality is forming – Water Protectors challenge pipeline viability, and so does oil economics.

A few months ago there were four big pipelines proposed to bring Canada’s tar sands out of Alberta. On October 5, the longest tar sands pipeline proposal – the $l5.7 billion Energy East – was scrapped by TransCanada. Canadian oil economists pointed to economics – the decline of tar sands production and prices – as a driving force for project cancellation. This was augmented by Canadian Premier Justin Trudeau’s more stringent review of pipeline projects, which included green house gas emissions and downstream impacts. One down, three to go.

While TransCanada received approval in November for a pipeline, they do not have a route. The Nebraska Public Service Commission voted 3-2 to give the project the go ahead but rejected pipeline TransCanada’s preferred route. TransCanada must now submit an application for an alternative route or appeal the decision, a process that could take up to two years. That is catastrophic in itself for a pipeline company. One thing is for sure: the new route will face fresh opposition. That’s the Cowboy and Indian Alliance, and they defeated the pipeline last time.

And, as Wiindigoo Economics goes, tar sands divestment is climbing, electric cars are coming on line and Fox News reported in June, “…Keystone XL is facing a basic challenge. The oil producers and refiners the pipeline was originally meant to serve aren’t interested in it anymore.” In other words, the company has no customers for the pipeline, and a pipeline without customers is not going to be built.

At the Enbridge hearings in St. Paul in November, a Canadian official sat quietly in the audience, worried and watching. At the end of the day he approached one of our attorneys asking if the tribes were likely to sue and stop the pipeline. It turns out TransCanada had asked the Alberta government to buy some oil shipping space on a KXL, and the Wiindigoo Economics wizards of Alberta may be hedging their bets.

It’s an uncertain time. If I was South Dakota, I would be making sure that there was a great clean up of this catastrophic spill before anything else moves ahead, and before Trans Canada goes bankrupt. Indeed, the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) issued the Keystone permit in 2007 with 57 conditions, ranging from construction standards to environmental requirements. The Commission may revoke or suspend it if the company is found to have made misstatements in its application or does not comply with the conditions. “If it was knowingly operating in a fashion not allowed under the permit or if construction was done in a fashion that was not acceptable, that should cause the closure of the pipe for at least a period of time until those challenges are rectified,” said Gary Hanson, one of the commissioners.

In the meantime, the Dakota and their allies remain committed to protecting Mni Wiconi (water is life). “The coming battles are going to be new, not like the ones in the past, and will demand all our strength,”  Lakota organizer Judith LeBlanc wrote in an article posted on “The traditional indigenous practice is that you must respond to adversity with courage, humility, compassion and love of community, as we always have. The NO KXL movement is being built from a spiritual starting point that’s rooted in the traditional Lakota, Dakota culture and origin stories, in the grassroots and in sovereign treaty rights …Native peoples have a legal, moral, spiritual and inherent right to be caretakers of the planet ..”

At the Gathering to Protect the Sacred, Arvol Looking Horse (19th Generation Keeper of the Sacred White Buffalo Calf Pipe) told the crowd, “We have been here before. Time and time again we have faced this invasion in our camps and our communities. But we always prevail.”

Julian Brave Noisecat was there as well, “After the treaty was signed, we came together to dance in victory. As the drummers hit the honor beats, we raise defiant hands. Women clutch red scarves symbolizing scalps and emblematic of the victory our people and planet so desperately need right now.”

The path forward for Keystone XL remains full of perils. Landowners, tribes and opponents of the pipeline have time to organize an appeal, and more than 5,000 people have signed up to join Indigenous people in acts of civil disobedience when and if construction begins.


Enbridge: The last big pipeline battle
Tuesday, November 07 2017
Written by Winona LaDuke,
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divestladukeweb.jpg Indigenous Women's Divestment Delegates (left to right), Michelle Cook, LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, Tara Houska, and Jackie Fielder. (Photo by Teena Pugliese.)

In late October, I attended the Enbridge pipeline hearings by the state of Minnesota. It’s been a long haul, I feel like I have been in five years of hearings, hanging in there with all sorts of committed citizens, heroines like Dawn Goodwin, Joanne Gagnon,  and Tania Aubid, who, I swear have been at every hearing imaginable.  

This time frame was particularly challenging, because there was a sulfide mining hearing in Bemidji (basically to change the standard of sulfides in the water and not protect wild rice), a Leech Lake Tribal hearing on the Anishinaabe Cumulative Impact Assessment on Line 3, and a Department of Commerce hearing in Cross Lake.  How, at the end of the month, are we all supposed to get on our magic carpets and appear at all these hearings to protect our wild rice and people.

The White Earth Tribe and Leech Lake Tribe both held their own regulatory hearings in October, reviewing an Anishinaabe Cumulative Impact Assessment  of the proposed Line 3 pipeline.  This is a process parallel to the state EIS hearing, yet reaffirms that the Anishinaabeg have jurisdiction over this territory. Meanwhile, the state of Minnesota’s Department of Commerce has recommended against issuing a permit for Line 3, yet that is not the final word. This is the battle line. And it’s the last battle; the last big pipeline battle. Let me explain.   

A few months ago there were four big pipelines proposed to bring Canada’s tar sands out of that land locked province of Alberta. Those pipelines were Enbridge’s Line 3, the Keystone Pipeline, Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Pipeline from Alberta through British Columbia, and Energy East – the longest pipeline from the Alberta Tar Sands to New Brunswick, at 1,300 miles long. Both Energy East and the Keystone Pipeline were proposed by TransCanada.

Canada’s Premiere Justin Trudeau and Donald Trump were all about the jobs and economic boom this would mean. All beaming and everything.  

Then reality started to hit. The pipes were already purchased from foreign pipe companies. The oil prices in the tar sands are not going up and there are more companies getting out of the tar sands than going in to them as an investment. Big banks have stopped investing in the dirty oil thanks to a worldwide divestment movement. Recently, US Bank has announced that it will end its $1.3 billion credit relationship with Enbridge, and on October 11, BNP Paribas, the 2nd largest bank in France and 4th largest corporate lender to Enbridge LLC, announced it will cease all funding of companies whose primary business is tar sands, fracking, or Arctic drilling  

That’s a result of hard work and a continuous lobbying by Indigenous led divestment group of Native women. This, combined with the Minnesota Department of Commerce  recommending against the issuance of a certificate of need, has hurt Enbridge. But the company is doubling down, bussing hundreds of workers to hearings, and beginning a dirty campaign against opponents of their plans.

In the meantime, Enbridge has missed much of the opportunity to move on to renewables and post petroleum. Car companies are talking about electric cars.  First it was Volvo committing to all electric cars, and just recently General Motors announced that the future was not in fossil fuel cars, but in electric cars. GM sold 10 million cars last year, ranging from pickups to SUVs to urban runabouts.

“General Motors believes the future is all-electric,” says Mark Reuss, the company’s head of product. “We are far along in our plan to lead the way to that future world.” That’s a lot of electric cars.

It turns out that no one will need that pipeline oil. Pipelines are expensive to build. On October 5, the longest tar sands pipeline proposal – $l5.7 billion Energy East – was scrapped by TransCanada. That pipeline had faced some stiff opposition from places like the Mayor of Montreal, and the Province of Quebec, where the Premier said that the line posed a significant risk to its freshwater resources.

Canadian oil economists pointed to economics – the decline of tar sands production and prices as a driving force for project cancellation, augmented by Premier Trudeaus’ more stringent review of pipeline projects, to include green house gas emissions and downstream impacts. One down, three to go.

TransCanada is also the proponent of the ill fated Keystone Pipeline, which many have thought will face certain resurrection now in the face of the Trump Administration and the loss of Energy East. However, as  Fox News reported in June, “Keystone XL is facing a new challenge: The oil producers and refiners the pipeline was originally meant to serve aren’t interested in it anymore.” In other words, the company has no customers for the pipeline, and a pipeline without customers is not going to be built. So this is probably pretty unlikely, no matter how much fairy dust Trump can find.

The smallest of the Tar Sands pipeline proposals, Kinder Morgan’s Trans-Mountain, is enmired in legal battles with both the Province of British Columbia and the First Nations there. In other words, the company is getting sued by everyone.

That leaves us. Us and Enbridge. That is why the battle over Line 3 is going to be brutal. It is the last big tar sands pipeline battle in North America. Stay courageous. No one else wants a pipeline either, and it turns out we will still be driving around, even without Enbridge’s oil. We will have electric cars.


Lake Superior island returned to Grand Portage tribe
Friday, October 06 2017
Written by MPR News Staff,
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Susie Island has been returned to the Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. Susie Island is the largest island. (Photo courtesy of The Nature Conservancy.)

An island at the tip of northeastern Minnesota has been returned to the Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Band of Ojibwe.

The 142-acre Susie Island is the largest of 13 small and rocky islands in Lake Superior, just before the Canadian border. The islands are home to some of Minnesota’s rarest plant life.

April McCormick is a member of the Grand Portage Band and worked closely with the Nature Conservancy to bring the island back under the tribe’s control.

The Grand Portage Reservation was established by the 1854 Treaty of LaPointe. A large portion of land on the eastern side of Mount Josephine extending out to Pigeon Point was left out when the boundaries were drawn. Tribal leadership pushed for many years to reestablish this area as part of the reservation, McCormick said in a conversation with MPR’s Cathy Wurzer.

A 1982 proclamation made this north eastern point part of the Grand Portage Reservation, but portions – including Susie Island – were acquired by private land owners. Between 1973 and 1991, the Nature Conservancy worked to buy back the entirety of Susie Island from multiple land owners, preventing any commercial development there, McCormick said.

Now under band control, human influence on the island will be kept to a minimum in order to protect areas of cultural significance as well as the natural environment.

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Fond du Lac Band restores wild rice to keep harvest tradition alive
Friday, October 06 2017
Written by Dan Kraker/MPR News,
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Jerrad Ojibway and Ed Jaakola bag about 80 pounds of wild rice they harvested. (Photos by Dan Kraker/MPR News.)

On the shore of Deadfish Lake on the reservation of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa in September, Ed Jaakola and Jerrad Ojibway scooped handfuls of wild rice from the bottom of their canoe into big plastic bags.

The rice was tough to harvest because of the wind, Jaakola said. Still, he estimated they had gathered 80 pounds, enough to cover the bottom of their canoe. It’s a tradition the 58-year-old has carried on for as long as he can remember.

“Probably 45 years for me,” he said.

Deadfish Lake, Zhaaganaashiins Odabiwining in the Ojibwe language, is blanketed so thick with wild rice this time of year it doesn’t even look like a lake.

“Because you essentially don’t see water when you’re looking at this,” said Thomas Howes, natural resources manager for the Fond du Lac Band, “you see what essentially looks like a field of grasses.”

The 100-acre lake is one of five primary wild rice lakes the band maintains. Together, they provide nearly 900 acres of wild rice habitat.

Deadfish Lake is especially important. “We keep it reserved for elder ricers for the first couple weeks of the year,” Howes explained, “because of its ease of access, but also because now it’s a reliable producer of wild rice.”

But that wasn’t the case more than 20 years ago. Back then, there wasn’t much wild rice left on the reservation to harvest. In the early 1900s the government built a network of ditches to try to drain the land for farming.

To read the rest of the story, see:

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