Protesters in Hubbard County were using a private driveway — not a county trail — to gather in opposition to the Enbridge Line 3 tar sands pipeline last year, a judge has ruled, concluding that the county was wrong to block their way.

In an order issued Tuesday, Hubbard County District Judge Jana Austad barred county officials from interfering with people coming and going from the Giniw Collective's Line 3 Camp Namewag near Menahga.

The 1,100-mile pipeline, which went into service in October carrying heavy crude oil from Canada to Superior, Wis., has been the focus of protests for years.

In 2018, Indigenous activist Winona LaDuke bought a parcel of land near Menahga and secured an easement to reach it across county-managed land, using an existing driveway. The site became a gathering place for pipeline protesters.

In June 2021, Hubbard County Sheriff Cory Aukes served notice on LaDuke and Tara Houska, who manages the site, that the road to the camp — which Aukes called a county-owned "trail" — would be barricaded and no vehicles would be allowed in or out.

LaDuke and Houska sued, leading to Tuesday's decision. In her order, Austad wrote that the easement and driveway clearly were linked to the property, which would be landlocked without them, and the county had no right to blockade the drive.

"Today's ruling is a testament to the lengths Hubbard County was willing to go to criminalize and harass Native women, land defenders and anyone associated with us — spending unknown amounts of taxpayer dollars and countless hours trying to convince the court that the driveway to Namewag camp wasn't a driveway," Houska said in a statement. "This is a piece in the long game and we aren't afraid."

In a statement, LaDuke said she is "grateful to Judge Austad for recognizing how Hubbard County exceeded its authority and violated our rights. Today's ruling shows that Hubbard County cannot repress Native people for the benefit of Enbridge by circumventing the law. This is also an important victory for all people of the north, reinforcing that a repressive police force should not be able to stop you from accessing your land upon which you hunt or live."

Aukes and Mark Lohmeier, Hubbard County's land commissioner, did not return messages seeking comment. Neither did Elizabeth Vieira, an attorney who represents Hubbard County in the case.

The blockade lasted about three days, according to court filings, and then was in place occasionally after that. Sheriff's deputies made a number of arrests and also blocked people from bringing food and water onto the property, the civil complaint says.

Austad ordered the sheriff to take down any notices prohibiting motor vehicle traffic on the driveway. She also voided the citations LaDuke and Houska were given for driving on the roadway.

However, the judge did not grant a request to void all other citations given to protesters, saying the court didn't have jurisdiction over those cases. The county was ordered to pay "reasonable costs" incurred by LaDuke and Houska, but not their legal fees, which they had sought.

There are about 200 criminal cases still open from the long series of Line 3 protests, one of the largest environmental actions in Minnesota history. Nearly 800 demonstrators have been charged with crimes, most of them stemming from protests during construction. The prosecutions jammed county courthouses in northern Minnesota.

About a fifth of the cases remain open, according to Marla Marcum, director of the nonprofit Climate Disobedience Center.