The Red Lake Tribal Council has voted to boot Enbridge from its land, a move coming two months after the tribe rescinded a deal that would have allowed the company’s pipelines to stay in place.
Four of the six Enbridge crude oil pipelines that cross northern Minnesota were inadvertently built decades ago on a small piece of land near Leonard that belongs to the Red Lake Band of Chippewa.
The Enbridge crossing issue laid dormant until about 10 years ago, when the Calgary, Alberta-based company began negotiating with the tribe to cure its long-standing trespass. In December 2015, the Red Lake Tribal Council approved a deal that would swap the roughly 8-acre pipeline parcel for about 160 acres owned by Enbridge near the reservation — and provide a $18.5 million payment from the company.
The money never changed hands, however, because the agreement has yet to be approved by the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA).
In January, the tribal council voted to rescind the deal. Earlier this week, the tribal council voted unanimously to have Enbridge remove its pipelines, confirmed Roman Stately Jr., a council member.
Enbridge said it has not been formally contacted by the Red Lake Tribal Council and therefore declined to comment further.
Rerouting the pipelines around the Red Lake land would cost Enbridge at least $10 million.
The land in question was originally ceded by the Red Lake band to the federal government in 1889. But it was never sold, so in 1945, the U.S. Department of the Interior restored the land to the tribe.
In the 1980s, the BIA discovered that Enbridge’s pipelines appeared to be in trespass on Red Lake land. Still, nothing happened for another 20 years. When negotiations commenced, Enbridge originally offered $350,000 for the land.
In the end, the deal called for a swap, as Indian nations can only sell land with Congressional approval. Tribal land is held in trust by the government, and the BIA, an arm of the Department of the Interior, must approve removing and adding land into trust.
The $18.5 million land swap with Enbridge was controversial from the beginning among Red Lake tribal members. Marty Cobenais, a Bagley resident and Red Lake member, brought the issue to the tribal council in January, arguing the swap was essentially a sale, and in violation of Red Lake’s own constitution.
In between the Enbridge deal’s passage in 2015 and its undoing in January, concerns have mounted that the BIA wouldn’t approve the swap under the administration of President Donald Trump. Plus, tribal antagonism toward oil pipelines has grown more intense.
The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s opposition to the Dakota Access pipeline in North Dakota prompted massive protests in late 2016. And Minnesota Ojibwe bands — including Red Lake — have vociferously opposed Enbridge’s proposal to build a new, $2.6 billion pipeline across northern Minnesota to replace its aging and corroding Line 3.
Enbridge’s corridor of pipelines carry Canadian oil to the company’s big terminal in Superior, Wis., as well as indirectly to the Twin Cities’ two refineries.