BEMIDJI, Minn. — After firmly locking his neck to the chain-link fence surrounding the Enbridge office building Monday morning, Aug. 19, Kieran Cuddy grabbed his banjo and began to sing. At times, he sang so loudly he was nearly shouting. Another protester, Bonnie Hoekstra, held a megaphone mic up to Cuddy’s mouth, amplifying the lyrics that spoke of threats to the environment. Several others danced on the asphalt driveway in front of a backdrop of posters that read, among other things, “Stop Line 3.”
Together, there were roughly 50 protesters who showed up at the Enbridge office located in Bemidji’s industrial park. The gathering was the latest in a series of protests against the oil company’s Line 3 replacement project, which activists say poses a threat to the environment and infringes on Native American treaty rights. Monday’s gathering was the second of two acts that happened at Enbridge properties in northern Minnesota over the last few days.
“Today we’ve accomplished our mission: shutting down Enbridge’s offices and sending a clear message to them that they will not build Line 3,” said Ethan Nuss of the Rainforest Action Network. “We’re here in solidarity with the Anishinaabe leaders.”
Protesters gathered at both the front and rear entrances of the building’s property. The company shut down its Bemidji office for the day because of the disruption. Enbridge spokeswoman Juli Kellner said that while the office did close for the day, many of the employees were able to continue working remotely.
The protesters were a mixture of both Native and none-Native activists. While there were some from the immediate Bemidji area, others came from the Twin Cities and even from out of state and out of the country.
Protesters set up the poles of a large teepee that stood partly on the road and partly on the Enbridge driveway. In addition to Cuddy, a number of other protesters chained themselves to the fence surrounding the office, using U-shaped bike locks.
“Toxins will kill us if we don’t resist and fight,” Cuddy sang.
The Bemidji Police Department barricaded off the road on either side of the Enbridge office. The department later issued a statement just before 2 p.m., saying they reopened the street and that law enforcement didn’t arrest any of the protesters, who “dispersed on their own.”
Enbridge released a statement Monday morning in response to both the Bemidji protest and another incident in Hubbard County.
“While Enbridge respects the rights of others to express their views on the energy we all use, criminal acts of unlawful protest like sabotage, vandalism, trespassing and occupation of pipeline facilities have the potential to cause serious harm — not only to the perpetrators, but also to nearby communities, the environment, local landowners and the employees who maintain these facilities,” the statement said.
Although the Native American community has organized a number of protests against the pipeline replacement project, several activists at the scene on Monday indicated the demonstration was meant to highlight the environmental concerns since the wild rice harvest is just around the corner.
“We are here to remind Enbridge that our wild rice harvesting season is coming up, that we’re going to be taking to our canoes and that we’re going to be out on the water harvesting our sacred grain that we came here for,” said Tara Houska of the Couchiching First Nation in Canada. “Line 3 is a direct threat to our wild rice.”
The protest on Monday came in the wake of an incident that happened at another Enbridge property in Hubbard County, located south of Bemidji. Enbridge’s Kellner said a vehicle rammed through the locked gate at a pipe storage yard Saturday evening. Kellner said it’s unknown if the two events were related.
“Trespassing and vandalism are illegal and dangerous. This weekend’s incident put the safety of an on-site security officer at risk. Enbridge does not tolerate trespassing or vandalism and supports the full prosecution of all involved in this incident,” the statement from Enbridge said. “We will continue to positively engage with all stakeholders and are committed to ongoing dialogue on the issues that matter to all of us.”