Water Protectors on the Banks of the Mississippi – Report from the Line 3 Resistance Camp

Winona LaDuke, David Detmold, at the Line 3 Resistance Camp, Pallisade, MN, on the banks of the Mississippi

By David Detmold, LNS – Pallisade, MN

“Be very still, and listen,” Paul DeMain told us. In the act of offering tobacco to the fire, he encouraged us to offer up that which we no longer wished to carry in our bodies, in our lives and in our souls. “But be careful what you ask to throw away, because the grandfathers will decide how that will happen in their own way.”

We were five minutes late for the start of the Full Moon Ceremony at the Line 3 resistance camp  in Pallisade, Minn. Fifteen masked and COVID-tested climate activists, we had driven 1600 miles from Maine and Massachusetts. If we hadn’t taken that time-consuming three point turn up I-94 toward Milwaukee we would have gotten there right on time.

But time zones and time consumption patterns change, the border between ceremony and sunset is fluid, and the pattern of moonrise on macadam is malleable in the cold North Woods. In the offing, we were welcomed into the growing circle at the pipeline resistance camp with an offering of sweet smoke brushed over our heads and bodies from a brazier of burning sage, calming our jangled nerves and helping us plant our feet firmly again on solid, indeed frozen, ground.

In the center of the circle stood DeMain, an Ojibwe-Oneida man who founded and published News from Indian Country, an award winning, independent monthly newspaper, from 1986 until August of last year. Like the Mohawk Nation’s groundbreaking Akwesasne Notes, which started publication earlier, in 1968, but went out of circulation by 1997, News from Indian Country covered Native news and culture, maintained a comprehensive powwow calendar, and served notice to the Colonial powers in Canada and America that Native people would not suffer ongoing indignities to Indigeneity and Mother Earth quietly.

DeMain, released from his self-imposed responsibility of covering the news in Indian Country, is now free to help make it. 

He stood in the firelight in the center of the circle, within a stone’s throw of the Mississippi River, here a young watercourse just 80 yards wide from shore to shore. He chanted an Anishinaabemowin prayer, beating a rhythmic drum as Wibinega-giizis, the Throwing Away Moon, rose full above the forest of birch and maple, spruce and pine. Each person in the circle was given a gift of tobacco, tied in a small pouch of red cloth, to toss in the fire pit at the proper time. But time is fluid, even more so within sight of the Mississippi, in the light of the moon, in the glow of the fire, and we waited, quiet and attentive, for that moment to come.

Demain sang an Ojibwe song composed at the turn of the last century, a warrior song. Demain told us the song conveyed the feeling of sacrifice a warrior would confront going into a battle in which he knew he would lose his life.

“The warrior knows he won’t be coming home to his wife and children, he will not be there to support his parents and grandparents, and in this sense it is they who make the sacrifice, not him.” 

We could carry this understanding into the struggle with Enbridge, he told us, as we place our bodies in the way of that Calgary-based energy corporation and its plan to build a 330-mile pipeline through northern Minnesota to carry dirty Alberta tar sands oil under 65 bodies of water, crossing under the Mississippi River, to the Great Lakes port at Superior, WI. 

Are we entering a battle in which we stake something as basic as our very lives? Carbon emissions from Line 3 are said to be equivalent to operating 50 new coal plants for 50 years. Climatologist James Hanson calls the expanding exploitation of Alberta tar sands oil: “Game over for the planet.” 

What will we throw away? Who is being asked to make a sacrifice? These were the questions we brought with us, that we confronted now.

When he finished his song, DeMain joked he wished he had brought a back-up singer; his voice was hoarse from spending too much time in the unnatural dryness of overheated buildings. 

The last bundles of tobacco had been tossed into the fire pit. Now the time had come to feast on venison stew, bison meat, tomato basil soup, cranberries and wild rice, apple crisp. 

The next day we split more firewood, washed dishes, helped construct a yurt to join the other winter tents and tipis. Then, Winona LaDuke, Anishinaabe elder from White Earth Reservation, director of Honor the Earth, invited us in to the main support house for tea and conversation.

She said, “All of you who came out here from Maine and Massachusetts, we appreciate you. A lot of pipeline battles have been fought here. A lot of pipeline battles have been fought all across this country. We saw that the Atlantic Coast pipeline and the Constitution pipeline are no longer. We also saw that the Keystone pipeline is no longer. So this is the last tar sands pipeline battle. Now, Enbridge shouldn’t have seven pipelines. They should be done. We fought them for seven years. We didn’t miss a hearing or a regulatory proceeding. Then, at the end of November, last year, Governor (Tim) Walz approved all the water crossing permits, and all of the public lands permits, and the Army Corps of Engineers in the Trump Administration approved the water crossing permits. And by December 1st Enbridge was rolling with a vengeance.”

“Stand With Us!”

Interview with Winona LaDuke

“So now, here we are. Look, nobody wants this tar sands pipeline. It’s about the oil and it’s about the air and it’s about the water. It’s about the resistance of the People. And we’re getting stronger. The new Line 3: there are 69 river crossings, about 200 water crossings. That’s a lot of water.

It’s beautiful up here. We need people to come and stand with us. This is the Deep North. People are afraid. Enbridge has been intimidating people. The cops have been intimidating people. So, when people come from someplace else, folks here say, “Hey, look, somebody believes in us.” 

So, we appreciate the support. We’re happy to have people come here to the main Water Protector welcome center, here in Palisade. It’s easy to find. Just head north on the Great River Road. You can’t miss it. 

Now there are other camps coming up: one in Fond du Lac, and one in Red Lake. And there’ll be more. There are 300 miles of pipe that have yet to be built. It’s not like Standing Rock, where it was down to one river crossing. The proposed pipeline crosses the Mississippi twice, once at the headwaters and once here, near Palisade. And we’ve still got 69 other river crossings to go. So come on out!

Enbridge is just trying to get as much of the pipeline constructed as they can before we get to court. We’re hoping for a stay. We believe the courts will uphold us. There was no federal environmental impact statement done. This project would not pass a climate test. 

Look: It’s 915,000 barrels a day of tar sands oil they want to put through this pipeline. If the Keystone XL, with 800,000 barrels a day, couldn’t pass a climate test, this one can’t. The state came out with an entirely faulty Environmental Impact Statement; there was no spill analysis for Lake Superior, no carbon impact analysis, no climate change impact analysis. It was all shoddy work by shoddy regulatory agencies that will not hold up in court. 

But in the meantime, we’re stopping this ourselves, with our bodies, with people getting arrested. And people are standing there and praying and being present. And for a scrappy and ragtag bunch of organizers, as they might call us, we’re doing pretty good. It’s us versus the Canadian multinational, and the home team’s doing pretty good. We need more people for the home team!

If you can’t travel out here. Go to our website at either StopLine3.org or HonorEarth.org. You’ll find a lot of people listed you can write letters to. You can send us some money, send us some more winter tents. 

You know, this pipeline is yours too. Nobody needs more carbon in the atmosphere. You can’t drink oil. The federal government has shifted (with the new administration). We need you to stand with us. We have a very good shot, and we’re gonna take it.”

Winona had been on the phone that morning with members of the state legislature, a growing number of whom have been lining up in opposition to Line 3. She had to cut our interview short to get on the phone with members of her board of directors at Honor the Earth. But before she concluded she offered these parting words:

“Why you would want a new tar sands pipeline at the end of the fossil fuel era anyway is a puzzling question. If they’re closing oil refineries and cutting pipe throughput, and you’re an investment banker, why would you buy a tar sands pipeline? So, we’re all ready for that just transition. We’re pretty sure that looks like solar power and local food, less cruising around and moving stuff around the world, stop wasting so much, re-localize, re-industrialize appropriately in North America so we aren’t shipping in everything from around the world

“Here in Northern Minnesota, we’ll be fighting over rocks and pipes for the rest of my life. Between the proposed mining projects in the Boundary Waters, and these mining companies lined up right after this pipeline project…. 

“What if we just said no? Arundhati Roy said she thinks of the pandemic as a portal. She talks about this as a portal between two worlds. Because we have changed our lives. The world that we knew last year is not the world that we know today. We don’t travel. We stay home. We use 10% less oil than we did last year. That’s a good start. Let’s just keep going. 

“That’s the moment I see. Over the course of this last year we all watched a pandemic change our world, because that’s what they do. We watched social movements change the face of America: from Black Lives Matter to all of those statues falling, all the Conquistadores, all the Columbus statues. All of the Confederate statues: they’re gone. They’re all gone. I never thought that would happen in my lifetime. I thought I’d have to continue to look at those guys. They’re gone. And then all those sports teams (dropping their Native mascots).

“It’s going to be OK. Just keep moving. Just keep pushing. Let’s make a just transition. Now’s the time. Come visit us!

“We’re working on solar. We’re installing solar thermal across the North Country. We’re working on hemp here. And we’re working to turn that beautiful field of fiber hemp into canvas. Because the word canvas comes from cannabis. The tribes here – and a lot of people – are ready for the next economy. 

“So I’m rolling up my sleeves. This spring I’m going to plant a bunch of seeds. I plan on growing a big garden. So, my suggestion to y’all is, ‘Keep fighting!’ 

“Stay strong. Protect your water, wherever you are. And throw us some support out here. As we battle away over this tar sands pipeline, come out and visit us. And, you know, dress warm. You’re from the North Country.”

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