By Marian Moore
The Mississippi River where Enbridge plans to cross, photo by Marian Moore
It is December 14, 2020, and here I am, a sixty-four- year-old woman, in a jail cell in northern Minnesota’s Aitkin County during a global pandemic. I have just been strip-searched and required to wear brown, jail-issued, rough-feeling cotton underwear, black cotton sweats, and a t- shirt, socks and flip flops that are all bright orange. I am given an inadequate paper mask and placed in a cell with 11 other women. There is not enough room to socially distance. As some of my cellmates sit sharing stories, I lie on a maroon, vinyl-covered pad on the concrete floor with my eyes closed, thinking, “How exactly did I get here?”
I am clear that I responded to a call to stand up for what I care about so deeply: the sanctity of the natural world and the rights of indigenous people who care for it. The Minnesota state government, on the other hand, has chosen to protect a company that is bent on destroying these things. As I ponder this reality, it is actually shocking. Twenty-two of us have been jailed today for trespassing on public lands where Enbridge, a multinational Canadian corporation, is installing a pipeline through the wetlands of Anishinaabe treaty territory.
The Line 3 pipeline route crosses 200 bodies of water including 22 rivers, the Mississippi among them, to carry dirty tar sands oil for foreign export. The climate impacts of this are staggering; if it’s built, greenhouse gas emissions would exceed the entire current output of Minnesota. I’m here in the Aitkin County Jail because we are living in an upside-down world where the wrong people are being put in jail.
One of the leaders of the Line 3 resistance is Winona LaDuke, Ojibwe economist, farmer, and visionary organizer who is a longtime friend. Winona, a member of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe, lives and works on the White Earth Reservation, and her organization, Honor the Earth, as well as her tribe, are among those in the legal battle to stop the pipeline. She has attended every hearing of the arduous seven-year regulatory process. For the last six years, she has led a horseback ride across the route where her people have the constitutionally protected right to hunt and gather. For my part, I have played a small but steady role for these seven years, helping to raise money for lawyers and organizations who are defending the water and treaty rights, and showing up at local hearings and demonstrations when I can. I am proud to be part of “the home team,” Winona’s term of endearment for this Indigenous-led coalition of people in Minnesota who keep showing up to protect the land and water.
In November, things change dramatically for the home team: despite the pending legal appeal by the White Earth and Red Lake Tribes, Honor the Earth and the Mn. Dept. of Commerce against the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission’s approval of the pipeline, Governor Tim Walz has allowed final permits for water-crossings to be issued by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. The Trump Administration also allowed a hasty approval by the Army Corps of Engineers. This means that now, to stop the pipeline, we must activate and resist directly.
Marian Moore and Winona LaDuke, photo by Keri Pickett
On the Sunday after Thanksgiving, I am among a few dozen people from the Twin Cities who respond to an invitation from Winona for a “Water Protector Welcome Tour” to orient us to Enbridge’s activity. The company has spent years readying for construction of the 337-mile Minnesota portion of the pipeline, and will roar into action the very next day. We gather on a sunny but chilly day in a parking lot in Backus, a small Minnesota town, one of many along the route that has become a staging ground for the pipeline. We stand in a big circle as Winona points out one of Enbridge’s equipment yards across the street and then, as the tour continues, a massive pipe yard where huge stacks of 36” pipe have lain in the weather for years. Winona is concerned about their integrity. These pipes are to be placed beneath pristine and sensitive wild rice beds which an oil spill would decimate. Wild rice, or “manoomin,” is sacred to Ojibwe people and at the heart of their origin story; the Creator told them to travel west to the place “where food grows on the water.” This is the only place on Earth that manoomin grows and is core to their culture, foodways and survival. A faulty pipe carrying tar sands oil is an existential threat to the Ojibwe people.
Around this time I have a vivid dream: I am in a small circle of people and I am carrying water – not a container of water but a piece of a river. In the dream I understand my role: to tend and care for the water. A few days after the water dream, a very curious thing happens. I have my second appointment for a therapeutic breathing practice. Over Zoom my breathwork practitioner friend guides me to close my eyes and begin the process of intentional breathing. Soon, my recent dream of carrying water comes to mind. “Go toward that,” instructs my friend. As I focus on the water, I am soon lost to everything but the water. In the flow of this mysterious process, sentences of affirmation come to me about the water that I say out loud: “I learn from the water. I am born of water. I am a being of water. I will be led where I need to be led just as water flows and rivers flow.” I feel like I am communing with the spirit of the water, which is powerful and deeply moving to me.
When I emerge from the 90-minute session, my son tells me that suddenly no water is coming from the faucets at our house. I am a little dazed from my session but pick up the phone to call the city water department. Apparently a water main has burst a block from my home. I’ve lived in this house for 33 years, and this has never happened before. It makes me smile, and feel even more connected to the power of the water. Later I recognize the additional lesson of the fragility of pipes, as though the water wanted to show me that in a tangible way. The sense of belonging to water encourages me as I return north.
This time I go to Palisade, Minnesota, to the Water Protector Welcome Center, a house on seventy-eight acres adjacent to where Enbridge intends to cross the Mississippi River. Winona found the house and land in 2018, and some friends and I helped her raise the money for Honor the Earth to buy it, “just in case” the process doesn’t go our way and we would need our own staging ground. A friend and I leave home before dawn and drive three hours out of town into the beautiful forested, snowy north country. When we arrive, we take in the scene; trucks zoom by on the Great River Road; big machines called “feller-bunchers” gobble up the trees on Enbridge’s route. We learn of two young people recently arrested for locking themselves to one of the Enbridge machines. We visit the Mississippi River and take time to sit and pray. Ice is starting to form but it is mostly flowing, on its way south to my hometown Minneapolis and beyond. Eighteen million people depend on the river and its tributaries for drinking water.
One week later, on Monday, December 14, I return again.
Anishinaabe water protector Tracey Dagen, photo by Marian Moore
I am still thinking about my communion with the water, and my responsibility to her. I am also thinking about my ancestors. One hundred and fifty years ago, my great- great-grandfather owned a copper mine in what is now northern Michigan. The Calumet-Hecla mine extracted copper that made many of my ancestors extremely wealthy. As Enbridge is to the Anishinaabeg here and now, I imagine that maybe the Calumet-Hecla copper mine was to the Anishinaabeg of that land, water and time. I feel a responsibility to my ancestors’ transgressions.
At the Welcome Center we join a group of about 50 people walking north on the Great River Road, led by remarkable and courageous Ojibwe women including Tania Aubid, Tara Houska, Dawn Goodwin, Nancy Beaulieu, Tracy Dagen, and Winona. There is singing and drumming and we chant as we turn west onto the public land where Enbridge is tearing down the forest to make way for the horizontal directional drill to put the pipeline under the Mississippi. Because these are also Ojibwe treaty lands, tribal members retain the right to hunt, fish, gather, hold ceremony, and travel here. Enbridge’s actions are a direct violation of their rights.
Law enforcement of Aitkin County has brought a cherry picker to remove a young tree-sitter, Liam, who is on his tenth day of living in a tree where Enbridge wants to put its drill pad. A banner hangs from his platform reading, “Blood on your hands Tim Walz.” It’s two below zero. To keep us warm, Winona leads a round dance, as a young boy drums and sings in Ojibwe. We are there nearly an hour before a swarm of cops from surrounding counties converges. They claim that we are trespassing. We disagree. This is treaty land. We are guests of Ojibwe people. I am in a clump of a couple dozen people who refuse to move. The Sheriff tells those of us who remain by the tree to disperse or we will be arrested. We stand eye-to-eye with a phalanx of police from Aitkin and other nearby counties. An Ojibwe woman among us, named Khalonie, sings a song in her language. Then I sing the song that has been running through my head for weeks, “ I went down in the river to pray studying about that good ol’ way…” Several people join in the song. As we sing, Liam is told that they are going to remove him. We watch him put his pack together. A few minutes later, the cherry picker extends and at the very moment it reaches the platform to retrieve him, a bald eagle flies in from the south and circles above Liam’s tree. We all cheer. The eagle is with us. We feel strong together as a group.
Retrieving Liam, photo by Keri Pickett
After Liam is brought down and ushered to a squad car, the police move to arrest our group. We link arms and sit down, holding each other to be strong together. The police put zip ties around our wrists behind our backs. As a police officer escorts me to await the jail-bound van, I yell out to the frigid air, as if to get it on record, “My ancestors were not good to the Anishinaabe people, so I am here standing for them and their treaty rights!” I am saying it to my ancestors. I am saying it to the Anishinaabe ancestors. I am so sorry.
Twenty-two water protectors spent 24 hours in the Aitkin County jail that day. Since then another hundred have been charged, many also jailed as we were. We learn that law enforcement is reimbursed by Enbridge for their efforts to intimidate, arrest and jail water protectors. Enbridge continues its rush to lay the pipe, while the home team is now supported by many allies from around the country and the world. The state of Minnesota has failed to protect the water, so we now ask President Biden to withdraw the Trump administration’s hastily issued Army Corps permits. Encouraged by Biden’s revocation of the Keystone XL pipeline permit, we ask that the Corps be required to perform a thorough and robust review that realistically looks at the cumulative impacts of the pipeline.
We ask people to pay attention to what is happening here in the north and we continue to go “down in the river to pray.”
As co-creator and facilitator, Marian Moore has helped birth new visions of how to be with money in service of regeneration, transforming power and deepening relationships. Play BIG, Lead with Land, RSF Integrated Capital Institute, Trust Web, Jubilee Justice and Jubilee Gift are “places” she has gotten to play. She lives in Minneapolis where she is active in movements for racial and climate justice. She is a mother of three adult children, music maker, producer, journal writer, and soul collage facilitator.
To learn how you can help the home team, please visit www.stopline3.org.