This week’s blog was written by Michelle McQuaid.
I have recently returned from time spent on the White Earth Indian Reservation in Northern Minnesota, having had a fantastic exposure to their way of life and also a lot of sadness in relation to the consequences of colonization.
Let me start with a background on the White Earth Reservation. This Reservation, or Gaa-waabaabiganikaag – “Where there is an abundance of white clay” in the Ojibwe language, is the home to the Mississippi Band (also known as Ojibwe or Chippewa) of the Anishinaabeg. It is the largest Indian reservation in that state by land area. Traditional culture is central to the Ojibwe and they believe their ancestors chose this land because it had the biodiversity and spiritual significance to provide for at least the future seven generations of their people. The land was reserved under the 1867 treaty, which designated 837,000 acres to be the White Earth Reservation. Today, however, the White Earth Tribe, hold only 76,347 acres, or about 9% of the original land base, as a result of historic land alienation by the allotment act and federal and state policies. Economically they are considered to be in poverty, however, they also recognize that money is not the only indicator of wealth. “Our people are rich in culture, a land of 47 lakes and 500 bodies of water full of fish and medicinal plants, as well as a bountiful wild rice crop, which feeds our bellies and our souls. Despite our land ownership challenges, our people continue a way of life, which is based on this land (akiing), through continued harvesting, cultural practices and ceremonies” (Winona LaDuke). The Wild Rice is central to the Ojibwe traditions and history and in their stories, during their migration from the East, they were instructed to only go as far as the Wild Rice grows. Much of the wild rice has been lost throughout the great lakes region with industrialization, as it is very sensitive to any toxicity. It does not grow south or west of White Earth, hence why the Ojibwe did not travel further. This has been a central food source for this tribe and is a source of income for many tribe members, as they still follow traditional practices, go out on the lakes every year in their canoes and harvest, dry and feed their families and sell their rice.
Honor the Earth, a Native-led organization, founded in 1993 by Winona LaDuke, addresses environmental concerns primarily among the Native people throughout the USA. This organization has helped defeat a number of environmentally destructive hazards- logging, waste disposal and incinerator projects, have faced down large pipeline proposals and mining proposals, defended wolves, created wolf sanctuaries on various reservations and protected the wild rice from genetic engineering. WELRP (White Earth Land Recovery Project), founded in 1989, is a multi-issue, non-profit, Native American organization based on the White Earth Indian Reservation. Alongside traditional agricultural practices, growing native seeds from the region; developing renewable energy systems to build energy sovereignty; commissioning of their community based radio station (KKWE, Niijii Radio) with a focus on independent journalism; they have, worked with Honor the Earth in environmental opposition.
The Great Lakes, which contains 20% of the world’s freshwater – a finite resource, demanding protection, is the homeland of the Anishinaabe people. In the Anishinaabe prophecies this is called the time of the Seventh Fire. “This is a time when our people will have two roads ahead of us- one miikina or path which is well worn, but scorched and another path which is green. It will be our choice upon which path to embark”. The native people believe this is the point we are at and a choice must be made. The ojibwe have seen the rise of a highly inefficient American industrial society on their lands. The largest mining companies in the world began in the heart of Anishinaabe territory- the Keewenaw Bay and the Mesabe Iron range – which then became known by the world as global leaders in mining. The society which has been created is highly extractive and highly inefficient, where today material resources and water become wasted and toxic. They argue that thousands of years and generations of tradition rely upon this resource, in a clean, productive state. A hundred and fifty years ago, the land provided well for those who lived there- abundant maple stands producing hundreds of thousands of pounds of maple sugar, one of the strongest and most abundant fisheries in the world and hundreds of thousands of acres of natural wild rice beds. The Ojibwe assert that there is, a significant natural wealth, which could continue to support many people and communities – an indigenous economy.
The pipelines are proposed to go through the Great Lakes and the Oglala aquifer (largest freshwater aquifer in the USA). These pipelines are: the proposed KXL Keystone pipeline, planned to go through Lakota territory and the Oglala aquifer carrying tar-sands oil from Alberta, Canada; the Alberta-Clipper proposed expansion, a currently 6 inch diameter pipeline which runs through the Great Lakes region and through the Ojibwe Leech Lake Reservation, to be expanded to 36 inch diameter pipeline, also from Alberta, Canada; and the proposed Sandpiper pipeline, proposed to run through White Earth Treaty territories, the Mississippi Headwaters carrying fracked oil from the Bakken fields (Fort Berthold Reservation) in North Dakota – Fort Berthold is built on Native homeland and sacred sites of the Mandan, Arikara and Hidatsa Natives. Honor the Earth’s work with the Sandpiper is dual purpose in supporting the native people already directly affected by fracking operations in the Bakken fields and also in protecting their own tribe, wild rice and lands in the White Earth/Great Lakes region.
For those of you who don’t know, tar-sands is oil leached from mountain-top removal and contains particles of sand which is of major concern regarding potential pipeline leaks due to abrasion. Fracked oil is the fracturing of the rock to extract oil and numerous undisclosed chemicals are used to extract this oil. Some of the known ones are known carcinogens and health is of major concern due to the impacts of fracking. Although the oil companies have claimed that no oil leaks into the water table, households in North Dakota can hold a match to their tap water and it goes on fire! Enbridge the company responsible for the proposed Sandpiper has a very poor record regarding leaks and their response time to leaks – 80% of their oil leaks have been discovered by locals, not Enbridge. Fracked oil is highly volatile, ranking at a 32 in volatility, while gasoline is at 52, and has already caused two deadly explosions – LacMegantic in Quebec.
Another concern is the social and economic consequences of these pipelines. The oil companies promise numerous jobs in relation to these projects but fail to disclose that normally, thousands of employees from outside communities are shipped into these communities for up to two years while the pipelines are built. After which these employees no longer have work, the local economy has been destroyed due to the influx of external businesses to support these workers and normally the local community do not benefit from the pipeline, with all profits moving to distant sources and very little direct employment for the community. Another massive concern is the building of what they call ‘Man-Camps’ where the employees are housed during their time there. Rape and abuse is very high and is not being publicly addressed except by organizations challenging this. In summary – communities are destroyed before the oil even has a chance to leak.
Agencies and Opposition:
My first experience of opposition to the pipelines was shortly after my arrival in Minnesota when I was invited to take part in a horse-ride along the proposed Sandpiper pipeline route. This was the third of pipeline rides, the previous two along the Alberta-Clipper route and the KXL route. The purpose was to raise awareness, to highlight concerns, to mobilize the community and also in relation to their spiritual beliefs. We rode 58 miles in 2 days. See link below.
It appears that state agencies such as the PUC (Public Utilities Commission – who assess the ‘need’ and the benefit of such projects), the DNR (Department of Natural Resources – who assess the potential impacts to the ecosystems) and the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) – have in the past been very influenced by the oil companies proposals – probably due to what they believe will be economic benefits of such endeavours and perhaps due to corporate influence, have chosen to turn a blind eye to a number of concerns surrounding applications.
This is where the Native people have stepped up to the mark and are starting to exercise their Treaty Rights. It appears to be somewhat confusing for these agencies as they have not had past experience of needing to consider treaty rights and balancing corporate demand. Aside from mobilizing communities, informing them of the consequences of extreme extraction, uniting in support between Native and non-native organizations, part of the work with Honor the Earth is being informed particularly in the PUC process. As of April 4th the commentary period closed, where all comments made by individuals and organizations in support of or in opposition to the proposed Sandpiper pipeline, will now be reviewed and a decision shall be made by an administrative judge who will either give the go-ahead for the pipeline or not. Honor the Earth has also taken a legal case against the pipeline. The more the proposal is delayed, the greater the cost for the oil company.
Similar opposition through the PUC process is happening with the Alberta-Clipper. In relation to the KXL proposed route, Honor the Earth is supporting their Lakota neighbours. This is to put pressure on President Obama following the release of the Environmental Impact Statement for the KXL which suggests that the pipeline should go ahead. Obama initially said that he would not make a choice until the science came in and has claimed that the EIS gives no reason to be concerned. On Earth Day, 22nd April, this year, the Lakota will be riding their horses into Washington D.C and the Ojibwe and other tribes will be riding with them. They have started movement to D.C to put up their teepees in the city in opposition to this pipeline. We’ll see what happens……….
This work is ongoing and intensive. For the level of work I’ve witnessed the Native people put into this cause, I genuinely hope to see a reprieve for them. How long do the impacts of colonisation have to continue in attempting to oppress and control a nation who only want sovereignty over their lives? Is their only survival to buy into the corporate capitalist neo-colonial structures or will their prophecies hold true for them?
For further information see:
Triple Crown of Pipeline Rides: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1v6_1DLth9U
Legal Case against Enbridge News: http://lptv.org/honor-the-earth-files-motions-against-sandpiper-pipeline/
Earth Day Washington: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n0F6nTqf1zg
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