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Native View: Enbridge must be held accountable in northern Minnesota

Winona LaDuke

Enbridge is going to need to do some accounting for us all. Around the same time the energy company announced the cancellation of its proposed Sandpiper pipeline, after a four-year battle in Minnesota, it bought a 28 percent interest in the ill-fated Dakota Access Pipeline project. Last week that pipeline battle saw a victory for the people, as the Army Corps of Engineers denied an easement necessary for the highly contested project’s cross of the Missouri River.

This has been a hard-fought battle for many, including Enbridge.

Enbridge can now focus on its proposed Line 3 pipeline replacement project, which would carry tar sands oil from Alberta to Superior through some of the best lakes and wild rice beds of northern Minnesota — and through the heart of Ojibwe treaty territory. As Enbridge seems to be kicking off a public relations campaign for Line 3, company officials owe us all an explanation of how this project is any different from Dakota Access. They need to account for the hundreds of injuries at the Dakota Access protests, including Sophia Wilansky’s arm being blown off. That happened when police lobbed a concussion grenade, according to protesters and Wilansky’s family. And they need to account for the apparent violations of civil and human rights in Morton County, N.D.

All for a pipeline. Enbridge, you don’t get a free ride.

Let’s be frank. As of Nov. 18, the Morton County Sheriff’s Department inventoried its troops at 1,287 officers from from 25 North Dakota counties, 20 North Dakota cities, and nine states (Indiana, Louisiana, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Ohio, South Dakota, Wisconsin and Wyoming), as the High Plains Reader of Fargo, N.D., reported, citing the sheriff’s department as its source. More than 550 people have been arrested, many of them, reportedly, strip-searched and cavity-searched. Some of those arrested said they were held overnight in dog kennels.

In the name of corporate profits, the state has, according to protesters and their supporters, fired teargas canisters, concussion grenades, rubber bullets, tasers and bean bag rounds at unarmed people interested only in protecting water from contamination — elders and children included. After all, that’s what this is about. Officers have maced us by the gallon, beaten us, and sprayed us with water cannons in subfreezing temperatures. They shot and killed one of our horses. When we brought out our sage bundles to pray, they showed up in riot gear with armored vehicles. Of course, most of the water protectors are Native, and the North Dakota media has continued to portray us as outlaws.

When 21-year-old New York resident Sophia Wilansky’s arm was blown off by an explosion, Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier suggested she and other protesters caused it. A statement from her father, attorney Wayne Wilansky, differed: “At around 4:30 p.m., after the police hit the bridge with water cannons and rubber bullets and pepper spray. They lobbed a number of concussion grenades, which are not supposed to be thrown at people directly. … A grenade exploded right as it hit Sophia in the left forearm, taking most of the undersurface of her left arm with it. Both her radial and ulnar (arteries) were completely destroyed. Her radius was shattered and a large piece of it is missing. Her medial nerve is missing a large section as well. All of the muscle and soft tissue between her elbow and wrist were blown away. The police did not do this by accident. It was an intentional act of throwing it directly at her. Additionally, police were shooting people in the face and groin, intending to do the most possible damage.”

A month ago, I asked Linda Coady, Enbridge’s sustainability director — aka, “the Indian Listener” — in text messages, phone calls, and via a direct request to Enbridge CEO Al Monaco, to respect Native people and to call for the demilitarization of the law enforcement response and a full environmental impact statement. Now, finally, that environmental review has been requested by the Army Corps of Engineers. But what’s up, Enbridge? Will tanks be brought to Ojibwe territory next? When are you going to repair the damage you have caused us? That’s even before you clean up the old mess of the existing Line 3.

Winona LaDuke lives on the White Earth Reservation in northern Minnesota. She has written six books on environmental and Native American issues and directs Honor the Earth, a national Native American environmental foundation. She wrote this for the News Tribune.

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