Recently, there has been misinformation surrounding tribal interests regarding the Enbridge Energy Line 3/Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) process, and “Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe” and “tribal interests” are being spoken about to fit different agendas. I am writing to set the record straight with our Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe’s position on the pipeline replacement proposals currently under consideration by the PUC.
Leech Lake Reservation is our homeland, and the waters and the food it provides are the reason our people are here and how we have sustained ourselves as a people spiritually, culturally and economically. We are a canoe people, and water ties us together. We cannot move or replace our reservation if there were an oil-spill disaster.
Our people have lived with these pipelines running through our lakes and reservation since the 1950s. Multiple generations have seen how the pipeline companies and governments ignore our interests and continue to pump oil through our lands. It has come to a point where pipes can no longer be safely put in this corridor.
We respect the Minnesota government and hope it shares the sentiment and respects our tribal sovereignty when we say loud and clear the position of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe: We want pipelines to end, and we will not allow another oil pipeline to be laid in our 42 miles of reservation.
I am a government official, a father and an Anishinaabe man. As a government official, I am chosen to speak for my fellow Leech Lakers and deal with the ramifications if they don’t agree with me. As a parent, I am allowed to speak for my family, make decisions and deal with those consequences. But as an Anishinaabe man, I do not speak for all Anishinaabe or talk about “tribal interests” and group all natives together. This has been missing from this discussion since it began and is missing from most political discussions altogether.
The Leech Lake Band speaks for itself. Beware of special-interest groups who are quick to tell you what the Anishinaabe want.
There are three proposed options under consideration by the PUC regarding Line 3.
The first, the “in-trench replacement” option, is very risky and not fully vetted in the environmental-impact statement. In particular, it burdens Leech Lake with two vast construction projects: one to remove the old line and a second to replace it in the trench. This heavy-machinery work must be in the same 200-foot-wide corridor as five other pipelines that would be still pumping light and heavy crude oil at roughly 2,275,000 barrels (95.5 million gallons) per day. Portions of this corridor have pipelines intertwined and crossing over one another, adding to the pollution risk.
The second option (which is supported by some environmental groups) is “no build,” which would still require Enbridge to conduct an estimated 6,250 integrity digs to evaluate and replace weak portions of the existing pipeline, including six digs per mile across a 42-mile length of the Leech Lake Reservation. Once this “no-build” work is complete, the original Line 3 would be considered a new build and would be allowed to operate at the original volume and pressure, rather than the scaled-back volume at which it currently operates. This “no-build” option would also leave the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe and Minnesota with the continued risks associated with a line that uses the same technology and materials as the pipeline responsible for the 2010 oil-spill disaster in Kalamazoo, Mich., which is still being cleaned up to this day.
The last option before the PUC is the “preferred route” that bypasses the bottlenecks and congestion associated with the current pipeline corridor. This route would establish a new corridor for Enbridge through central Minnesota within the 1855 Ceded Territory. What does this mean for the Leech Lake Band?
The 1855 Ceded Territory is important to us. The Leech Lake Band retains rights, a connection and an interest in the management of the lands. The difference is that Leech Lake Reservation will always be our home. Unlike a house, however, we can never rebuild or move if a disaster were to happen.
I wish one of these options was truly “no pipeline,” but that isn’t the world we live in. We live in a world with pipelines and hard decisions. Our logical stance as a tribal nation is to take care of the land on which we live, where we make our homes, pass on our teachings and build new citizens.
Our land, our water, the manoomin (wild rice) and our tribal sovereignty are more important than any pipeline.
Faron Jackson Sr. is chairman of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe.