Two summers ago, the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MNDOT) created what then-MNDOT Commissioner Charlie Zell called “an incredibly horrific event.” The highway department desecrated 33 Ojibwe graves while rebuilding a bridge on Highway 23 in Duluth, because MNDOT did not consult with the Fond du Lac Band and conduct an on-the-ground survey before the bulldozers rolled.
Last month, the Minnesota Supreme Court paved the way to additional atrocities when it refused to review an appeals court decision to not require a Traditional Cultural Properties (TCP) survey of Enbridge’s proposed Line 3 route. The assessment would be a part of the pipeline’s Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).
The Mille Lacs, Red Lake and White Earth Bands requested early in this process that the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) include on-the-ground surveys as part of the EIS so that the PUC could choose the route with the least impact on native peoples. Instead, the PUC relied on incomplete paper records.
Our land and our history is not recorded.
The court has decided that our dignity, rights, sacred sites, spiritual foundation and well-being should be trampled for a Canadian corporation. The court sent a message that Native people don’t really matter and that agencies may forgo real due diligence and destroy Traditional Cultural Properties, from sacred springs to graves. Sadly it’s a continuation of the scorched earth and starvation history of Minnesota. We have lost many. In a world where we seek to treat each other well, this is a tragedy of civil justice.
What’s particularly galling is that Line 3, Enbridge’s sixth pipeline, is not needed by Minnesota or U.S. consumers. This is an export pipeline — i.e., profits for Enbridge. Greed, not need. According to U.S. Energy Information Agency (EIA) “prime supplier” data, total petroleum fuel sales in Minnesota are down 19% from a 2004 peak, and have been stable since 2010. This data also shows that total U.S. oil demand peaked in 2007 and has been dropping for the past year. It is a myth that we need more oil.
Proposed Line 3 and its expanded volume would increase U.S. exports of crude oil and petroleum products. It will release millions of metric tons of carbon dioxide, something we don’t need. U.S. exports have grown from 1 million barrels per day to 8.7 million barrels per day. The PUC preferred to support additional exports to foreign oil buyers rather than protect Minnesota’s Anishinaabe people from the harm caused by Line 3.
Then there’s the future. Not only have millions of enlightened youth walked out of school, demanding action from decisionmakers, but the world is moving from fossil fuels, quickly. While the Amazon is burning, Amazon the corporation announced 80% of its power will come from renewables by 2024. It will be carbon neutral by 2040. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos will buy l0,000 electric vehicles; Google is following suit. Even Daimler AG, the world’s first gas-powered automobile manufacturer, stated that its future development efforts will focus on electric vehicles. As Patagonia’s CEO points out, “The plain truth is that capitalism needs to evolve if we, humanity, are to survive.”
Indeed, investors, individuals and institutions alike are fleeing fossil fuel investments, particularly avoiding the dirtiest oil in the world, as the generations ahead look on. Even the Koch brothers sold off their tar sands holdings. No one is buying tar sands except more Canadian corporations. That’s their bad decision, and we don’t have to buttress a dying Canadian tar sands economy.
The time is now to do the right thing. Young people have asked us to make good decisions and allow their world to be full of life. That’s what the Anishinaabe have asked: that we can continue to live within the sacred land to which we belong. I believe that we should matter to Minnesota, more than a Canadian multinational of fossil fuels. Civil society demands more of us.
Our prophecies refer to this as the time of the Seventh Fire. We are told we have a choice between two paths, one well-worn and scorched, the other green. That’s this moment, Minnesota. It’s time to treat us like first-class people and our history and way of life with respect.
This is our Holy Land. And we are the home team. The court was wrong: We matter to Minnesota. Join us. Miigwech.
Winona LaDuke is executive director of Honor the Earth.