Protesters set up camp along Enbridge pipelines in northwestern MinnesotaThe protesters oppose the pipelines’ existence under Red Lake reservation lands, which they say is illegal.
By: John Hageman, Forum News Service
BEMIDJI, Minn. — Just over a snowbank in rural Clearwater County, Minn., four orange posts stick out of the ground.
They mark where four pipelines run underground, transporting crude oil to the Enbridge Energy terminal in Superior. But they also mark a point of protest for those sitting around a campfire on the other side of the snowbank.
Those protesters, some American Indian and some not, oppose the pipelines’ existence under Red Lake reservation lands, which they say is illegal. Since Thursday, they’ve camped in a plowed-out area above the pipelines, braving the snow that was coming their way Monday night.
“If you had a house and someone came squatting in your house, how would you feel about that?” said Marty Cobenais, a Red Lake Nation member and an office manager at the Indigenous Environmental Network. He said the pipelines stretch under about 8½ acres of reservation land.
Angie Talazio, the protest’s organizer, said she hopes the demonstration will slow down the production of tar sands in Canada. She said chemicals used to produce the tar sands, which can be refined into oil, have been known to cause health problems for nearby residents.
Becky Haas, an Enbridge spokeswoman, said in an e-mail that “Enbridge has no objections to the activities of these individuals” if there is no danger to the pipelines.
She said the four pipelines, built in 1949, 1958, 1962 and 1972, run from Edmonton, Alberta, to Superior.
“Enbridge went through the proper channels to acquire easements, permit, construct and operate the pipelines on this parcel of land, the first of which was constructed in 1949,” Haas wrote. “Our pipelines were installed based on recorded real estate records.
“We have made several good-faith efforts to address the ownership issues with the Red Lake Band,” she said, “and we will continue to work with the Band to achieve an amicable resolution.”
Red Lake Tribal Chairman Floyd Jourdain Jr. said the protest is not sanctioned by Red Lake Nation.
“This issue is nothing new, and the Red Lake band has known about this trespass for many years,” Jourdain said in an e-mail. “We have had talks with Enbridge but nothing meaningful came of those talks, so the Red Lake band ordered them to vacate tribal lands and move their lines.”
Cobenais said he hopes the protest will at least open up more dialogue between the company and the Red Lake Tribal Council.
“If we can help the Tribal Council getting that to happen sooner rather than later, and get Enbridge to listen, then we’re there,” Cobenais said.