BEMIDJI, Minn. -- U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn. met with a small group of Indigenous leaders, water protectors, concerned citizens, politicians and activists on Saturday to learn more about the reasons behind their opposition to the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline replacement project.

The group, which included voices from organizations MN350, Honor the Earth, the Giniw Collective and the RISE Coalition showed the representative around some landmarks near Park Rapids and Bemidji, taking Omar to an opposition camp, a proposed river crossing and a pipeline equipment storage area. Omar ended the day in Bemidji with a listening session at the Rail River Folk School.

Though Omar represents Minnesota’s Fifth District, she came to the Seventh District to see the impact of the pipeline project for herself, advocating that the issues related to Line 3 are things the whole state needs to address.

“Line 3 isn’t just going to impact this community,” Omar said while speaking in Bemidji. “All of Minnesota will eventually be impacted. If we are not feeling it today, then our children, our grandchildren (will).”

She added, borrowing a sentiment from her colleague and Massachusetts Rep. Ayanna Pressley, that she believes, “Those who are closest to the pain should be closest to the solution and that’s the reason I am here today.”

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U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn. and her husband Tim Mynett listen to Audrey Thayer, Tara Houska and Lorna Hanes while visiting a Line 3 opposition camp on Jan. 30 outside of Park Rapids. (Hannah Olson / Bemidji Pioneer)
U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn. and her husband Tim Mynett listen to Audrey Thayer, Tara Houska and Lorna Hanes while visiting a Line 3 opposition camp on Jan. 30 outside of Park Rapids. (Hannah Olson / Bemidji Pioneer)

Water protectors shared their stories with Omar -- who has been vocal in her opposition to the project. Throughout the day, she and her staff were collecting stories and taking video to share with other lawmakers in Washington.

“We owe it to future generations, to the Indigenous communities we've signed treaties with, and to every living being on this planet to stop building fossil fuel infrastructure,” Omar tweeted during the day.

Many present during the day expressed frustration with the Walz administration for not halting construction, and many approached the new Biden administration with skepticism.

Biden recently rescinded a permit, curtailing the Keystone XL pipeline cutting through Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska. Those opposing Line 3 hope it will face a similar fate.

Enbridge's project will build a new oil pipeline to replace the current Line 3, which was installed in the 1960s. Currently, the existing pipeline is operating at half capacity because of its age and condition.

Unlike the existing pipeline's 34-inch diameter, the new Line 3 will be 36 inches. More than 1,000 miles long, the new pipeline will carry an average of 760,000 barrels of oil per day from Edmonton, Alberta to Superior, Wis., where a terminal is located. In Minnesota, 337 miles of pipeline will be installed.

“Canceling Keystone without canceling Line 3 is just trading one evil for another,” Tara Houska, a tribal attorney based in Washington, D.C., and Couchiching First Nation member who has been vocal and strongly opposed to Line 3 since its inception, said during the tour on Saturday. She spoke to Omar about how she believes one can’t regionalize the climate crisis -- that this issue is everyone’s issue.

“You can’t control it to only this specific state, ‘the emissions only count in this space,’ no, they’re everywhere, that’s how the globe works, that’s how the environment, an ecosystem works,” Houska said.

“It means the world to me to have you here, trying to uplift this fight and using your influence and your access into those spaces that have been so broken, to help us have a voice and to help what we’re trying to give a voice to, to have a voice also,” she added. “It’s maddening to me, to have to advocate on an issue that’s so simple.”

Other Indigenous voices weighing in were Lorna Hanes and Dawn Goodwin from White Earth Nation, and Nancy Beaulieu from Leech Lake Nation. The three spoke about their perspectives on the pipeline from the standpoint of tribal sovereignty and treaty rights, as well as their experiences fighting against the pipeline so far.

“It isn’t just about what it means for us to collectively fight, to protect the environment, to see ourselves as stewards of the earth that we are allowed to exist on,” Omar said. “There shouldn’t be particular people who are thought of as water protectors, we should all be water protectors.”

Audrey Thayer, who is an enrolled White Earth member and serves on the Bemidji City Council, spoke to Omar throughout her visit, sharing her emotions after seeing the pipeline construction site.

“It was a very difficult day for me, because I’d seen the land torn up. I think about everything that matters to me -- it is the rice, it is the trees, it is the water,” she said.

She spoke about anti-Indigenous racism she’s experienced and witnessed in Bemidji, and that along with environmental justice, the need for the area to work toward racial justice.

U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn. stands with a group in front of a pipe storage yard near Park Rapids during a day meeting with Indigenous leaders opposed to Line 3 on Jan. 30. (Hannah Olson / Bemidji Pioneer)
U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn. stands with a group in front of a pipe storage yard near Park Rapids during a day meeting with Indigenous leaders opposed to Line 3 on Jan. 30. (Hannah Olson / Bemidji Pioneer)

Houska also framed the pipeline issue as a racial justice issue, to which Omar agreed.

Reed Olson, who is a Beltrami County Commissioner, also spoke to Omar about the issues the county has been facing due to pipeline construction, including housing shortages and safety concerns.

“A community of this size can’t absorb 5,200 workers,” Olson said. “What do we do when we don’t have the capacity in the community?”

In Minnesota, 8,600 jobs are anticipated from the project, with 4,200 of them being union.

Thayer and Olson both spoke of the immediate impacts the construction has had on Beltrami County and Bemidji, mentioning that pipeline workers have had such difficulty securing lodging that some have sought housing with area shelters.

Earlier in the day on Saturday, the group visited an opposition camp a few miles outside of Park Rapids, where water protectors have been stationed for a couple of years.

Some Indigenous leaders there spoke of the cultural and spiritual meaning of the land in the area, and the plants and animals that call the spaces home.

Omar was then shown the Headwaters of the Mississippi River, and the space where the pipeline is projected to cut across the river. While there, she filmed a video directed toward constituents with stories from the water protectors.

“Thank you all for the hospitality, it feels great to be here,” Omar said to her hosts. “There are a lot of reasons to feel hopeless, but there are a lot of reasons to be hopeful.”