For over two weeks now, Nizhawendaamin Inaakiminaan (We Love Our Land) has been occupying land directly above four pipelines across an easement that Enbridge has claimed since 1949 when the company, then called Lakehead Pipe Line Company, installed the first of four pipelines across land owned by the Red Lake Band of Chippewa despite not having an easement from the Red Lake Chippewa Nation. These pipes carry toxic tar sands, Bakken oil, as well as Canadian crude. By threatening the local lakes, these pipes endanger the lives and economic livelihood of Red Lake Band members.
The grassroots group of Red Lake Chippewa and Anishinaabe Indians is joined by blockaders and solidarity activists determined to shut down the pipelines, hold Enbridge to account for stealing land, and protest Enbridge’s proposed expansion of the nearby Alberta Clipper toxic tar sands pipeline.
Located in Northern Minnesota near the town of Leonard, the occupation of the Red Lake land began Thursday, February 28. Requests to Enbridge regarding internal safety regulations related to above-ground activity over their pipelines resulted in a spokesperson claiming that activity such as fires and the construction of permanent structures like fences and houses would result in a pipeline needing to be shut down as documented in this viral video:
Similar encampments, like the Unist’ot’en Camp, have been springing up across the continent to fight the fossil fuel industry and stop the destruction of sacred lands in the pursuit of ever-more dangerous and destructive fossil fuel resources. Indeed, the pipeline industry would be hard pressed to imagine a tougher time in which to be doing business.
Indigenous resistance to tar sands pipelines in the region dates back to 2009 when Enbridge’s Alberta Clipper tar sands line was run through Leech Lake and Fond du Lac Anishinaabe reservations. The pipeline was only saved by technicalities in tribal law that led a judge to dismiss the case against the decision by elected officials to contract with Enbridge.
Enbridge is currently in the process of seeking approval to nearly double the capacity of the nearby Alberta Clipper toxic tar sands pipeline from its current 440,000 barrels per day up to 800,000 bpd. Not only will the Red Lake action take four pipelines offline, it is also setting precedent that pipeline expansion will not be tolerated! Not only that, but shutting down the illegal Enbridge pipelines may prevent millions of barrels of dirty tar sands from reaching market.
Now, with a decisively bold move and the backing of large constituencies of Red Lake Band members due to years of local community self-education, Nizhawendaamin Inaakiminaan might well set the first example of a tar sands line being forced to shut down permanently due to protest after it has been operational!
“When I was informed about the illegal trespassing of the company Enbridge on my homeland, I knew there was something I could do. I started calling as many Red Lakers as I could to try and make them aware,” said Angie Palacio who initiated the encampment with the support of the Indigenous Environmental Network.
Support for their efforts has been pouring in from many nations and groups:
Tom Poorbear, vice president of the Ogalala Sioux Nation declared, “We fully support the Red Lake Nation and its members who are opposing the Enbridge pipeline to stop the flow and remove the illegal pipeline from their land.”
Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org has stated, “I imagine everyone involved in the planetwide resistance to fossil fuel is watching them with thanks.”
Chief Bill Erasmus of the Dene First Nation stated, “We fully support and are inspired by the Red Lake members and their resistance as it is stated in the Mother Earth Accord; affirming our responsibility to protect and preserve for our descendents, the inherent sovereign rights of our indigenous nations, the rights of property owners, and all inherent human rights.”
Enbridge, of course, is a major player in the toxic tar sands pipeline saga being responsible for the costliest onshore petrochemical spill in US history. On July 25, 2010 a tar sands/diluted bitumen spill from Enbridge’s 6B pipeline near Marshall, Michigan that resulted in the release of over a million gallons of toxic tar sands/diluted bitumen and a permanently contaminated 40-mile stretch of the Kalamazoo River along well as several tributaries. There have been hundreds of health problems associated with exposure to the tar sands chemicals and since the spill several deaths have been attributed to the sudden exposure. These chemicals immediately begin evaporating upon release and are heavier than air, forming a toxic cloud at ground-level that is practically inescapable.
Clear after the spill was the complete lack of understanding Enbridge and US Federal oil spill response teams had in how to clean up a tar sands/diluted bitumen spill. Diluted bitumen is not crude oil and therefore does not behave like crude oil upon release. There are still no established cleanup protocols and emergency first responders in regions like Texas and Oklahoma, where the 750,000 barrels per day Keystone XL pipeline is proposed to traverse by the end of 2013, have never been informed or warned as to how to manage the extremely toxic diluted bitumen spills common to the tar sands industry.
Communities in the immediate vicinity of the devastating spill are still reeling and are showing little to no signs of recovery – biological or economic.
Nizhawendaamin Inaakiminaan is well aware of these happenings and has taken one of the most exciting steps to rid their territory of the threat to community health and safety that tar sands pipelines pose.
They are accepting donations to assist in the purchase of building and life-sustaining materials here:
Please donate if you can.