Minnesota tribes press concerns over pipeline plan, wild rice

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mn_tribes_press_concerns_over_pipeline_plan_wild_rice-web.jpgSeveral 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

and gather.

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

relationship.

"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

proposal.

"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

hearings.

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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