On July 1, 2015, the National Congress of American Indians adopted a formal resolution calling for a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on Enbridge Energy’s proposed Sandpiper/Line 3 oil pipeline corridor across treaty-ceded territory in Northern Minnesota. The NCAI is the oldest and largest national organization of American Indian and Alaska Native tribal governments. The official resolution can be viewed on their website here.
The resolution calls for immediate and coordinated action by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the US Army Corps of Engineers, to address the serious threats to tribal sovereignty, natural resources, and environmental justice that the pipelines pose, especially in light of the highly flawed regulatory process at the state level. It emphasizes the EPA’s obligation to designate appropriate Bands of Ojibwe/Chippewa as “cooperating agencies” in the thorough environmental review required by the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA), and work closely with tribal governments to protect precious tribal resources.
On June 5, 2015, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission issued Enbridge a Certificate of Need for the Sandpiper pipeline, without any tribal consultation and without meaningful consideration of environmental justice issues or potential impacts on the religious freedoms and federally-protected resources of the region’s indigenous peoples. The decision was made despite formal objections from the White Earth and Mille Lacs Bands of Ojibwe, as evidenced in their letters to the PUC requesting postponement of the decision until the testimony taken at their own public hearings could be considered. Those tribal hearings were held on the White Earth and Mille Lacs Reservations on June 4 and June 5, respectively, in response to the PUC’s denial of requests to hold one of its hearings on the reservations so that those most impacted could have voice.
“Manoomin, or Wild Rice, is a sacred food to the Anishinaabe, of tremendous spiritual and cultural importance, a federally-protected tribal resource,” states the resolution, and tribal governments throughout Minnesota and Wisconsin are concerned that an oil spill “would have devastating impacts on unique spiritual and cultural resources.”
Even on ceded territory (off-reservation), Ojibwe tribal members retain certain property rights that allow them to “make a modest living from the land.” These use-rights are called usufructuary rights, and are guaranteed by the treaties between Ojibwe bands and the US government, protected by the US Constitution, and affirmed by the US Supreme Court. They include the rights to hunt, fish, gather medicinal plants, harvest and cultivate wild rice, and preserve sacred or culturally significant sites.
The proposed new oil pipelines in northern MN violate the treaty rights of the Anishinaabeg by endangering critical natural resources in the 1854, 1855, and 1867 treaty areas. All pipelines leak, and catastrophes like Enbridge’s 1 million gallon spill in 2010 on the Kalamazoo River, the largest inland oil spill in US history and still not cleaned up, are not unlikely.
“These pipelines threaten the culture, way of life, and physical survival of the Ojibwe people. We will continue to work to protect our water and our rice, as our ancestors did before us,” said Winona LaDuke, Executive Director of Honor the Earth, the environmental organization leading the intervention in the Sandpiper permitting process.