Water protectors, Indigenous leaders and allies descend on Mississippi River headwaters to stop Line 3 pipeline construction

Around 2,000 water protectors, Indigenous leaders and activists gathered on County Road 9 in Clearwater County, about 20 miles southwest of Bemidji, to protest construction of the Enbridge Line 3 oil pipeline on June 7, 2021. After marching for nearly two miles from their staging area to the Mississippi River, indigenous leaders spoke to the crowd and demanded political leaders hear their voices over environmental, and other, concerns about continued construction of Enbridge's pipeline.

Protestors march on County Road 9 in Clearwater County over a Mississippi River bridge and into marshlands to the Enbridge Line 3 oil pipeline construction site to voice concerns, and demonstrate, over the continued construction of the pipeline. (Michael Achterling / Tribune)

Water protectors, indigenous leaders and activists showed up by the thousands in Clearwater County to protest continued construction of the Enbridge Line 3 oil pipeline through northern Minnesota.

After marching for nearly 2 miles to the Mississippi River on Monday, June 7, activists were met with no resistance from the Clearwater County Sheriff's Office deputies who were on scene to keep the peace and protect the protesters on County Road 9. Those gathered remained peaceful throughout the afternoon and loudly voiced their concerns through chants and singing.

"A spill, a rupture will harm the environment in this area," said Dawn Goodwin, co-founder of RISE (Resilient Indigenous Sisters Engaging). "Climate change, that oil is the dirtiest oil and will emit so much CO2 into our environment it would be equal to building 50 new coal plants."

The activists claim the pipeline carrying tar sands oil from Canada will cross more than 200 bodies of water, including dozens of wild rice lakes, and sensitive watershed ecosystems, according to a press release from the group organizers.

Clearwater County Sheriff Darin Halverson said he, and his deputies, knew the group was only trying to demonstrate their first amendment rights and wanted to allow them the space to do that.


"We've been working with the local leaders throughout this whole project and we've let them, not to this scale, but we've let them come down and demonstrate in the past, and they've been very respectful, and that's what I'm expecting today," said Halverson. "It's a large turnout."

Winona LaDuke speaks during the demonstration program at the headwaters of the Mississippi River during the Treaty People Gathering, which voiced concerns over the Enbridge Line 3 oil pipeline on June 7, 2021. (Michael Achterling / Tribune)

Winona LaDuke, environmental activist and co-founder of Honor the Earth, said she spent seven years trying to work within the system to stop the Line 3 pipeline through the "right" channels, but, after those measures failed, grassroots action was the only remedy left to halt the construction of the pipeline.

"We wanted the system to work," said LaDuke. "Jumped through every hoop, did every backflip, filed every brief, it didn't work, and so this is what we're left to. And these people came from all over the country to come support us because it's not just Minnesota's problem, or Tim Walz's problem, this carbon is going to mess with us everywhere, so I'm so grateful to the thousands of people who just showed up."

Jane Fonda, left, and Rosanna Arquette smile with their protest signs during the march with other activists to the headwaters of the Mississippi River to voice their concerns over the Enbridge Line 3 oil pipeline on June 7, 2021 as part of the Treaty People Gathering. (Michael Achterling / Tribune)

Celebrity allies of the movement, Jane Fonda and Rosanna Arquette, were also in attendance and spoke to the protesters during the program of speakers.


"The Biden administration has the power to stop the advance of Line 3 and reexamine the permit, ask the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers to reexamine this because they haven't done an adequate environmental impact assessment, a climate assessment, and a justice assessment," said Fonda. "This is exactly what's needed, I just left the other site where people are chained to the equipment, and that is what changes things … they have so many bodies of water that they are going to try to put pipelines under, and we have to give them heartburn at every single one."

Jane Fonda, right, academy award winning actress, smiles for a photograph next to a protestor in Clearwater County, near the headwaters of the Mississippi River, during a protest during the Treaty People Gathering on June 7, 2021. The protests were held to voice concerns, and demonstrate, the continued construction of the Enbridge Line 3 oil pipeline. (Michael Achterling / Tribune)

After the program of speakers, a group of about 75 protesters, some carrying tents, made their way through the marshes near the river to the Enbridge construction area about 100 yards from County Road 9. Then, they assembled on a series of railroad ties, which were assembled to create a bridge to keep the heavy construction equipment from getting stuck in the swampland.

"Climate change puts our natural environment all out of balance, so that is what we're protecting," said Dawn Goodwin, from the make-shift bridge. "Don't let them fool you in saying, 'oh, it's state-of-the-art equipment,' it's more than a pipeline, it's about CO2, it's about racial justice, social justice, and environmental justice all wrapped up."

The other site of protest appeared on Highway 71, north of Park Rapids, blocking a Enbridge pump station, according to an afternoon press release from the organizers. Protesters linked arms and created blockades of debris at the site. The number of arrests at the second site are unknown at this time.

"The situation is urgent," said Tara Houska, a member of the Giniw Collective, in a released statement. "It requires an urgent response. Find your bravery, find your community, and find your truth."


A pair of protestors link arms through a tube on a piece of heavy equipment at a second protest site at an Enbridge pump station on June 7, 2021 during the Treaty People Gathering, a gathering of activists to protest construction of the Enbridge Line 3 oil pipeline. (submitted photo)

A group of protestors assemble at a second protest site at an Enbridge pump station on Highway 71, north of Park Rapids, on June 7, 2021 during the Treaty People Gathering, a gathering of activists protesting the Enbridge Line 3 oil pipeline. (submitted photo)

Enbridge released a statement that said the damage done by the protesters at the pump station was "disheartening" and 44 workers needed to evacuate the job site at the pump station, including 10 employees of a native-owned contractor located in White Earth.

The statement continued: "We hoped all parties would come to accept the outcome of the thorough, science-based review and multiple approvals of the project. Line 3 has passed every test through six years of regulatory and permitting review including 70 public comment meetings, appellant review and reaffirmation of the 13,500-page environmental impact statement … 320 route modifications in response to stakeholder input, and reviews and approvals from the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa."

Lead Multimedia Reporter for the Detroit Lakes Tribune and the Perham Focus.
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