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Indigenous Activist On Why Groups Are Protesting The Line 3 Pipeline In Minnesota


The fight over the Keystone XL pipeline may be over for now, but the next battle over a major oil pipeline is well underway in rural northern Minnesota. The Canadian company Enbridge wants to replace its aging Line 3 pipeline with a new route, but many Indigenous and environmental groups want to completely shut it down, arguing that it threatens their food and water resources and will irreversibly damage the climate. Protesters are blocking the construction route, and over a hundred people have been arrested so far. Joining us now is Tara Houska, a tribal attorney and Indigenous rights activist, founder of the Giniw Collective. Welcome to the show.

TARA HOUSKA: Thank you so much.

CORNISH: And I understand you've been at the protests this entire time. Can you tell us about what you've seen so far?

HOUSKA: So there's been an uptick in harassment, surveillance and targeting of Indigenous peoples on the ground by local law enforcement. I've seen an incredible groundswell of young people in particular and Indigenous, Black, BIPOC folks who are out risking personal freedom and their bodies on the line to stop this horrible project from exacerbating climate crisis and disrespecting tribal sovereignty yet again in the history of this country.

CORNISH: Getting into some of the chief concerns, the potential of a pipeline leak - what do you believe is the threat posed by that?

HOUSKA: So we are up here in northern Minnesota. It's the land of 10,000 lakes, including the headwaters of the Mississippi River, with the tens of millions of people downstream. So there's the risks of a spill. There's the risks of construction itself - so disrupting the water quality and harming the wild rice tributaries that are downstream and the emissions associated with this project, which are the equivalent of 50 new coal-fired plants being built.

CORNISH: We reached out to Enbridge, and they responded with a statement with a couple of points. I want to put them to you to have an opportunity to respond. There were reservation leaderships who reviewed the process and who have given it its support, that this is, in fact, supporting Native Americans in the region, that there are a few hundred Indigenous people working on the pipeline replacement project and that some of these factors are not being taken into account.

HOUSKA: Enbridge has worked its hardest to engage in a divisive campaign on the ground to attempt to paint a situation in which they are respectful of Indigenous peoples and that they've actively engaged in employment of Indigenous peoples, when in fact, the reality is that three Ojibwe nations are suing against the approval of this project. They do not have consent. Enbridge simply is lying in terms of its so-called tribal buy-in of this project. The only nation that has really been - they were not really given a choice, was the Fond du Lac reservation, which was - we're either going to put the pipeline across the street from your reservation, or we're going to put it through your reservation. That's not much of a choice.

CORNISH: We should note that Enbridge is replacing the pipeline because, in 1991, this line was responsible for the largest inland oil spill in the history of the U.S., right? Is there an argument to modernize it to prevent this kind of spill again?

HOUSKA: The threshold issue here is about need. When I see a project like this that is billing itself as a replacement to an old leaking line, my initial question is, why are you leaving your old mess in the ground and building a new pipeline through a new ecosystem in new riversheds in new waters so it can leak somewhere else? Enbridge should instead look at its existing capacity, send its tar sands through that way if that's, like, the mentality of their corporation and, honestly, transition away from fossil fuels. Building a new expansion project is not in line with those climate goals.

CORNISH: Tara Houska, thank you so much for speaking with us.

HOUSKA: Miigwech. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Over two decades of journalism, Audie Cornish has become a recognized and trusted voice on the airwaves as co-host of NPR's flagship news program, All Things Considered.
Ashish Valentine joined NPR as its second-ever Reflect America fellow and is now a production assistant at All Things Considered. As well as producing the daily show and sometimes reporting stories himself, his job is to help the network's coverage better represent the perspectives of marginalized communities.