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Native view: Enbridge in need of a real Indian whisperer

Enbridge has announced it is looking for a new tribal relations specialist for northern Minnesota. They are hiring.

This is going to be interesting, particularly since no tribal government, Native organization or, let’s just say, traditional Native person in the North seems to want Enbridge’s proposed Sandpiper pipeline. Chairwoman Karen Diver of the Fond du Lac Ojibwe wrote a letter last month expressing significant concerns about both the pipeline and Enbridge’s safety record in light of significant tribal-harvesting interests. The letter followed resolutions by tribal governments, testimony and legal interventions opposing Sandpiper by the White Earth and Mille Lacs bands and by the Minnesota Chippewa tribe. In short, it’s tricky terrain.

This reminds me of the federal government’s Office of the Nuclear Waste negotiator in the 1980s. This guy was charged with getting communities to consider a no-strings-attached grant to review nuclear-waste options and then a bigger grant to look at it some more. No one wanted to hang out with this guy, but 16 of the 20 recipients of the initial money were Indian tribes, so it was clear he was working hard to get Native people involved. As a matter of fact, there was this great promotional literature that referred to Native people as the guardians of Mother Earth — so, naturally, we would feel really comfortable caring for nuclear waste. Well, as we know, this has not yet worked out.

(I testified at the hearing on the nuclear waste repository potential site, called the “Headwaters Site,” right by the headwaters of the Mississippi River. At the hearing, I explained I understood it was a suppository and not a repository. But that’s last millennium’s news.)

Enbridge’s proposal is not a lot different, however. A 65-year-old corporation is asking a people which has lived here for 8,000 years to assume liability for a pipeline that will carry oil through their territory. It is not as if we do not notice that the profit is being made at either end, except for tax and other minimum benefits we get along with the liability. With 800 spills and counting in the U.S. and Canada between 1999 and 2010, according to tarsandswatch.org, and with a new proposal to put hundreds of thousands of barrels of tar sands oil through pipeline with whole bunches of structural concerns, Enbridge is going to need one sweet-talking Native. After all, Red Lake, Leech Lake, White Earth and Fond du Lac all are affected by Enbridge’s pipeline proposals — and those Ojibwe can be, well, contentious.

Best of luck, Enbridge; you’re going to need a real Indian whisperer.

Winona LaDuke lives on the White Earth Reservation in northern Minnesota. She’s an economist who has written six books on environmental and Native American issues. She directs Honor the Earth, a national Native American environmental foundation. She also is a two-time vice presidential candidate, sharing the Green Party ticket in 1996 and 2000 with Ralph Nader.