Several Minnesota Indian bands are
upset about what they say is a lack of consultation over a proposed
controversial oil pipeline across northern Minnesota.
This week, the Mille Lacs and White
Earth Ojibwe bands are holding their own public hearings on plans for
the Sandpiper line, a $2.6 billion pipeline that would pump North
Dakota crude 300 miles across Minnesota to its terminal in Superior,
Wis., and eventually to refineries around the Great Lakes.
The tribal hearings are happening as
the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission readies a major ruling on
the project’s need.
While the route preferred by Canadian
pipeline company Enbridge Energy does not cross any Indian
reservations, it does cross a large area of lakes and forests in
northern Minnesota where treaties give tribes the right to hunt, fish
Tribal members say they are especially
concerned about potential impacts on their right to gather wild rice.
A three-hour meeting Enbridge hosted last week on the Fond du Lac
Reservation was sometimes tense and emotional.
"If the wild rice dies, we die,"
said Michael Dahl, who drove four hours from the White Earth
reservation to attend the meeting. "Shame on you," he
shouted to Enbridge representatives.
Tanya Aubid, a Mille Lacs Band of
Ojibwe member who lives near the Rice Lake National Wildlife Refuge
near McGregor, Minn., broke down in tears as she talked about how a
pipeline spill near Rice Lake would be devastating.
Ojibwe migration stories tell of how
the people were told to keep moving until they came to a place where
food grew on the water.
"Wild Rice is very much an
integral part of our lives," she said. "It’s there for us
for our ceremonies, for basic daily living, and something we’ve had
here for thousands and thousands of years."
Linda Coady, Enbridge’s director of
sustainability, told tribal members she’d relay their concerns to the
company’s senior leadership. While she didn’t make any promises,
Coady said she hopes Enbridge and tribes can forge a less adversarial
"There are very strong feelings;
there are obviously a lot of concerns about the potential impact of a
spill in relation to wild rice," she said.
"On some of the issues, we have
shared values, common goals," she added. "No one wants to
threaten the wild rice in Minnesota."
Enbridge has hired a tribal relations
consultant. But several bands say neither Enbridge nor the state have
done enough to consult with tribes.
Public hearings on the need for
Sandpiper were held in Duluth, Bemidji and other cities, but not on
any reservations. The White Earth Band asked the Public Utilities
Commission for one. The agency declined.
In early June, both the White Earth and
Mille Lacs Bands will hold their own hearings on the pipeline
"We want to get our voice heard on
this particular issue," said Susan Klapel, natural resources
commissioner for the Mille Lacs Band.
The PUC’s Dan Wolf says tribal voices
have had a chance to be heard.
While he declined a recorded interview,
he said in a statement that tribal members have "submitted
numerous comments," adding there’s been "considerable
opportunity" to provide written comments.
The White Earth Band and a Native
American group called Honor the Earth are formal parties to the
Sandpiper proceedings before the PUC and have testified in several
But that’s not enough, said Winona
LaDuke, founder of Honor the Earth. The state should consult directly
with tribal governments.
"Nation to nation, we should act
as governing bodies between the Mille Lacs band and the White Earth
band that are both holding hearings this week," she said. "But
instead the PUC is just going ahead."
The utilities commission is scheduled
to decide on Sandpiper’s "certificate of need" on Friday.
That’s the same day as the Mille Lacs Band’s public hearing, and just
a day after White Earth’s. Mille Lacs and White Earth leaders have
asked the commission to delay its decision until they submit reports
from their hearings.
But even if the commission rules the
pipeline is needed, that’s not the final say on the project. The PUC
would still have to approve a final route for the pipeline, a process
that will require more public hearings, and the PUC says, more
chances for tribal input.
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