With singing, dancing and waving of flags, Indigenous leaders, activists and elected officials peacefully descended upon the Minnesota State Capitol on Wednesday in a late-stage plea to halt construction on Enbridge's nearly completed Line 3.
Opponents of the controversial oil pipeline planned a series of demonstrations that began Monday at the Capitol, as construction surpasses 90% completion and the legal remedies to stop it have nearly been exhausted. Wednesday's protest called on Gov. Tim Walz and President Joe Biden to stop construction of the 340-mile pipeline, which will carry oil from Canada.
About 2,000 people, including local elected officials, members of Treaty People Walk for Water who walked 256 miles along the pipeline route, and community leaders from across the state gathered on the Capitol grounds Wednesday afternoon. Protesters young and old danced on the lawn, some holding signs that read, "Break free from fossil fuels" and "Honor the treaties."
Taysha Martineau, who co-founded the Migizi pipeline resistance camp in Cloquet, Minn., said she doesn't have much hope that elected officials will step in at this point to stop construction. But she said she believes that officials still need to hear the voices of protesters.
"They can build this pipeline, but we still have the time now to remedy the situation and step away from fossil fuel addiction," she said. "Those who are in places of power still have the time to ensure a climate future for future generations."
State officials recently expanded the security presence around the Capitol, including reinstalling a fence perimeter — measures that organizers decried as a militarized response to peaceful demonstrations.
At least 100 law enforcement officers guarded the Capitol on Wednesday, some in riot gear. State Patrol troopers closed some nearby streets and guarded the Minnesota Judicial Center and other government buildings.
"Water protectors" — activists who oppose projects and policies that they believe harm water systems — were in attendance as a line of defense if law enforcement attempted to take down tepees or other ceremonial objects on the lawn, Martineau said.
"We're not here to instigate, we're not here to fight police," she said. "We're just here to ensure the safety of all who are present."
Thabiso Rowan of St. Paul said he attended the demonstration because "I love Mother Earth and I want to see the people that occupy this planet live in harmony."
"I'm really happy that I can come out here and support the water protectors, who give so much of their time and energy to support being in harmony with the water," he said.
The $3 billion-plus new Line 3 prompted a six-year battle through Minnesota's regulatory process, with Calgary-based Enbridge getting its final permits late last year. The pipeline replaces the 1960s-vintage original Line 3, which is corroding and can run at only 51% capacity. Enbridge maintains the new pipeline is a significant safety improvement; it will restore the full flow and boost the company's earnings.
The new Line 3 runs partly on a new route. Pipeline opponents say it will expose new regions of Minnesota's lakes, rivers and wild rice waters to oil-spill degradation — and will exacerbate climate change.
Sam Strong, secretary of the Red Lake Nation, reminded the crowd at the Capitol of how climate change has already affected them — how for a week this summer it was hard to see the sun due to wildfire smoke and children couldn't play outside.
"There has already been much suffering, and it's only gonna get worse," Strong said. "But we do have an opportunity to make a difference, we do have an opportunity to show the world a better way to live."
Enbridge has said it will begin pumping oil during the fourth quarter, and that could come sooner rather than later. The company has already filed for "toll surcharges" with regulators in Canada and the United States. The tolls on its customers could be effective as early as Sept. 15, and service could then start within the next 30 to 60 days.
In a statement, Enbridge said it has "demonstrated an ongoing respect for tribal sovereignty." The company said that with its new route for Line 3, it purposely avoided crossing the White Earth and Fond du Lac reservations, which currently host all six Enbridge pipelines across Minnesota.
The Fond du Lac band fought hard against the new Line 3. But once the Public Utilities Commission approved it, the band allowed the new pipeline to cross its land on the current Line 3 route, getting an undisclosed amount of compensation from Enbridge in return.
Pipeline opponents argue that the new Line 3 still crosses lands where they have treaty rights to hunt, gather and fish.
Jaylani Hussein, executive director of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, commended the crowd at the Capitol for coming out, and called on them to have conversations with the people in their lives who said they would, but didn't.
"We have 10,000 lakes but do not care about the water that's in them," he said.
Staff writers Stephen Montemayor and Alex Chhith contributed to this report.
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