This Public Lab fellowship project's purpose is to prevent two new extractive industries from building and operating in northern Minnesota. The Huber OSB Factory and the Talon/Rio-Tinto Mine are threatening the same communities, lands, and waters that Enbridge's Line 3 pipeline currently threatens. As a community member in Aitkin County and as a frontline activist in the resistance against the Line 3 pipeline, I want to provide some social context around this fellowship and its connection to the Line 3 resistance.
The Line 3 Expansion Pipeline and Resistance
The Canadian oil company, Endbrige, constructed their expansion of the Line 3 tar sands pipeline through northern Minnesota during the year 2021. The pipeline crossed over more than 200 bodies of water, including the Mississippi River twice. The resistance against the pipeline occurred along the entire route thorough the state, resulting in a significant delay in construction and over 800 arrests. The resistance was, and still is strong. We know what the devastation of a a tar sands rupture looks like since Enbridge's line 6B broke in 2012 in Kalamazoo. We even know what a broken Line 3 looks like by what happened in Itasca County in 1991 when it burst oil into the LaPrarie River which is a tributary to the Mississippi River. Fortunately, the pipeline broke in February so the rivers were frozen over and the oil was mostly cleaned up.
We cannot afford the carbon footprint of tar sands oil, or any other oil. We also cannot afford another broken pipeline, especially in these rural areas of northern Minnesota where one-fifth of the Earth's freshwater exists.
The fight continues against Line 3 and against other extraction. Economically poor, rural areas are not "sacrifice zones". We need to change our economy to one that benefits our communities and environments. Minnesota does not produce oil. We have a maple syrup economy, a blueberry, and wild rice economy. We have wildlife to admire and trails to bike on and local businesses to support.
The counties where the Line 3 pipeline is located, and where the Huber OSB Factory and the Talon/Rio-Tinto Mine are proposed to be located in are Itasca and Aitkin Counties in northeastern Minnesota. They are both very rural and economically poor. As a local water protector who fought Line 3 in these counties, there seems to be three "categories" of people: those who actively resist extraction and exploitation of the land and natural resources, those who do not resist extraction and exploitation of the land and natural resources, and people who are opposed to those who resist extraction and exploitation of the land and natural resources.
White people make up 95% of both counties, many live here part-time, owning cabins and lake properties and coming up from Minneapolis-St.Paul in the summers. These folks are often against the industries since their interests lie in their property value and their property value depends on the quality of the environment they use for recreation whether that is ATV trails or clean water for fishing, boating, or swimming in.
Many people in the county have strong feelings about water protectors or anyone they perceive to be a water protector. I believe this has a lot to do with implicit racism and the result of successful propaganda to support capitalism and law enforcement which are inherently in opposition to water protectors because of the ways capitalism promotes extraction and exploitation of the land, and how law enforcement protects capitalism.
Aitkin and Itasca Counties are on stolen land that rightly belongs to the Anishinaabeg/Ojibwe people who still live here. There are two reservations bordering the counties: Gaa-zagaskwaajimekaag (Leech Lake Reservation) and Misi-zaaga'igani (Mille Lacs Indian Reservation) on 1855 and 1854 Treaty Territory.
The traditional and sacred food of the Anishinaabeg is Manoomin (wild rice). Ricing is a life way for many people in the county as well as a source of food and income. Indigenous and non-Indigenous people benefit greatly from the yearly harvest of wild rice which grows naturally, without any cultivation, in the lakes and rivers in the area, and in the rest of the Great Lakes Region. We named our fellowship "Minnesota Land and Manoomin Protection Project" because these extractive industries threaten the Manoomin and the way of life of so many people.
The rice lives in clean, shallow, slow-moving waters and is very sensitive to chemical changes in the water such as sulfates which will be produced by the proposed mine if built.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources
During the Line 3 pipeline resistance, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) arrested and cited dozens of water protectors who were non-violently existing in a place and/or speaking out against the destruction of our land and water. Out of all the money Enbridge spent on law enforcement, the DNR received the most. The DNR permitted the extraction of billions of gallons of water for Enbridge to use on construction during the one of the worst droughts in Minnesota's history, they permitted the burning of the "overburden" or forest Enbridge cleared. This is dangerous, again, because of the drought, but also because locals who were already dealing with smoke from the forest fires from the north, had to deal with the smoke from that also. The DNR then failed to investigate or prosecute Enbridge for their reported aquifer breach. The DNR has been in bed with Enbridge since they approved construction of their pipeline.
The DNR is supposed to regulate the use of our state's "natural resources" and prosecute the violation of their permits. Because of the DNR's inaction regarding Enbridge's numerous Frac outs and aquifer breaches, we cannot rely on the DNR to prosecute any extractive industry, especially when the DNR collects so much revenue from selling natural resources and mineral rights.
In the summer of 2018, at a military base called Camp Ripley in central Minnesota, Enbridge paid for a cross-agency training for police officers to learn to surveil and disrupt pipeline protests. Born of that training, which included many lessons from the violent policing of the Dakota Access Pipeline protesters at Standing Rock, The Northern Lights Task Force formed. County Sheriffs Departments, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, and the Minnesota State Patrol joined forces to intervene in protests against the pipeline. This policing of "American" citizens by public law enforcement was paid for by a Canadian oil company.
Many municipalities received "personal protective equipment" from Enbridge, including helmets and batons. Aitkin County Sherriff's Deputy Aaron Cook bought a new assault rifle as he anticipated a larger department budget resulting from the approval of Line 3.
After over 800 arrests, water protectors continue to go to court for their charges. As we already knew, and as the courts continue to acquit defendants, many of the charges are bogus.
The policing and arresting of water protectors in the past year has shown that, to protect status quo and property, they can and will arrest people for nearly anything and hope the charges stick. This impacts communities who are speaking out against extraction. The police have shown us that even giving a speech on your own front porch can result in days in court, or filming on a public road can result in days in jail and in court. This is time we can't get back. Over-policing adds to the weight of fighting extraction.
Based on my experience and observations over the last year in these two counties, fighting extraction is heavy work. Line 3 set the stage for propaganda to divide our communities. Land and water protectors are not only burdened by fighting extractive industries, they are also burdened by the threat of arrest or other over-policing as well as opposition from their own community members.