Climate Corner: Water Protectors update

Aug 20, 2022

Giulia Mannarino

Last summer, more than a thousand people participated in the Treaty People Gathering (TPG), a protest against the Line 3 pipeline being constructed by Enbridge, a Canadian energy transportation company. This pipeline crosses the treaty lands and treaty protected wild rice fields of the Anisihinaabe in northern Minnesota. During the nine months of construction, over 1,000 arrests were made. The decision to engage in civil disobedience is a personal one that is made for a variety of reasons. At the TPG, these may have included the following: treaty rights are the supreme law of the land and this pipeline violates treaties made by endangering the water and wild rice; this pipeline will result in carbon emissions equivalent to building 50 new coal fired power plants, ignoring the fact that climate change is real and urgent; Enbridge has had many spills, leaks and violations over the years including the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history; and, of course, the future of the planet and the grandchildren should come before corporate profit.

For some individuals, arrest was a planned decision and for others, a more impromptu one. The people arrested were a variety of ages, races and income levels and included well known senior citizen climate activists, Bill McKibben and Jane Fonda as well as Harvard educated attorney Winona LaDuke, a member of the White Earth band of Anisihinaabe.

During the pipeline construction, Enbridge collaborated with and funded local police forces throughout northern Minnesota. It is a well known fact that the company, based on the need for “public safety,” donated $8.6 million to state and county police forces for costs associated with surveillance and arrest of water protectors. And although some brutal arrests were made at the TPG, the new riot gear worn by the police was unnecessary, as the protest remained peaceful. Protesters were arrested in different locations at various times and dates; however, a majority of the arrests were made in Hubbard County on June 7, 2021.

Since that time, these 441 cases have been making their way through the Hubbard County Court process. Many of the defendants arrested at the TPG were represented by a very capable, kind and young Attorney-Fellow employed by the Civil Liberties Defense Center (CLDC) located in Park Rapids, Minn. The same CLDC attorney also represented some of the indigenous defendants in cases that had been transferred to the tribal court system. These tribal court cases were recently dismissed in a major legal victory for indigenous sovereignty and treaty rights.

In late June, of this year, the Hubbard County Prosecutor offered the colonial (non-indigenous) Hubbard County defendants, being represented by CLDC, a Continuance For Dismissal (CFD). The CFD is an agreement between both parties to not continue the court process. It was acceptable to many defendants because it does not require a guilty plea and the probation is waived once the court fee is paid. In many cases, these court fees are being paid by donations made to the Line 3 Legal Defense Fund, which was established in 2019.

These CFDs were partly the result of Enbridge’s denial of Hubbard County’s recent request for thousands of dollars to pay court staff overtime/new hires to handle the additional court work load. Enbridge wasted no time in informing the Prosecutor that his request did not fall under the definition of “public safety” as outlined in their original contract. In any case, the negotiating and legal skills of the CLDC lawyer was also a major factor in the positive outcome of dismissal.

Unfortunately, for our planet and our grandchildren, Enbridge’s controversial Line 3 pipeline expansion project was recently completed. The “black snake” is now running Canadian tar sands oil, among the world’s dirtiest extreme fossil fuels, from Alberta, Canada, through hundreds of previously untouched wetlands, the Mississippi River headwaters and over 200 water bodies, to the shore of Lake Superior in Wisconsin for refining. In an address given on April 4, 2022, United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres stated: “Climate activists are sometimes depicted as dangerous radicals. But, the truly dangerous radicals are the countries that are increasing the production of fossil fuels.”

The campaign against Line 3 is not over. The “dangerous radicals” have now shifted gears to focus on shutting it down.


Giulia Mannarino, of Belleville, is a member of Mid-Ohio Valley Climate Action.