Li Boyd Guest Writer
Imagine the smell of wood smoke and the sound of someone singing in the distance — a little ways off but not too far. Mix in the whinnies and murmurs of horses talking to each other from all around. There’s also laughter. Always.
Then add the sound of a helicopter. This sound isn’t like the others. Sometimes it’s far away. Easy to ignore. Sometimes it’s so close that people shout to be heard and everything thrashes in the downdrafts. Either way, it’s a constant sound. The only escape would mean being driven away from this place, and then there would be no more woodsmoke, singing, horses or laughter.
This is what it was like to be at Standing Rock during the fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline. This ght is ongoing, and while the Oceti Sakowin camp no longer exists, bulldozed under by the State of North Dakota, other camps have sprung up all over the country to resist pipelines wherever they try to snake through. The pipeline fight is just getting started, and it has come home to Minnesota.
Canadian oil company Enbridge is trying to get state approval for its Line 3 expansion project, a new 36-inch pipeline that you’ve probably heard at least a little about. It would cut through the pristine watersheds and prime wild rice country of our home territory. People from across many different communities in Minnesota, including all our tribes, have spoken out against this project.
We, the indigenous people, know what the costs of poorly regulated industrialization can be, especially in our historically disadvantaged communities. The State of Minnesota knows, too. The draft Environmental Impact Statement released by the State proves this in places like Chapter 11, where it reads: “the proposed Project and its alternatives would be an additional health stressor on tribal communities that already face overwhelming health disparities and inequities” and “any of the routes, route segments, and system alternatives would have a long-term detrimental effect on tribal members as a result of crossing treaty lands.” Yet the State also writes, “A finding of ‘disproportionate and adverse impacts’ does not preclude selection of any given alternative.”
It’s telling of our relationship with the State that this DEIS ac- knowledges the negative impacts but admits that the government will approve this pipeline knowing it’s going to hurt us. To them, our sacrifice is worth their gain.
Foremost on our minds is our water, but in Minnesota, we must also consider Manoomin, wild rice, our sacred food staple. It only grows here in our pristine waters. The heavy crude oil that will be transported through this pipeline is not like any other oil we’ve seen before. It comes from the toxic Alberta Tar Sands, and it’s essentially asphalt-tar cut with chemicals to make it fluid enough to push through a pipe. During a spill, the diluting chemicals quickly evaporate, leaving the heavy petroleum materials to stick to or sink in whatever environment they encounter. There is currently no technology available to clean up heavy crude oil that spills in water. The threat to our water, our marine life, and our manoomin is nothing short of disastrous.
The threat to our communities is just as great. Construction of the pipeline would bring in more than 4,000 construction workers from all over the country (while employing very few, if any, local workers). This workforce would be cash rich and have low over- sight. They’d live in “man camps,” the unofficial name for the temporary trailer complexes that house pipeline workers. In North Dakota, man camps coincided with a 163% increase in sex crimes on the Fort Berthold Reservation. Young women and girls in that community are afraid of being taken right off the street and sold. Drug trafficking also increased.
The DEIS suggests that Enbridge can have “awareness campaigns”that could prevent these issues from happening here. It’s safe to say we’re all aware of the disproportionate amount of sexual violence already suffered by indigenous women. The measures brie y mentioned in the DEIS are woefully insufficient, and even one case of sexual violence is one too many. This is a life and death issue in indigenous communities, but Enbridge and the State seem to feel that it’s a problem that can be easily controlled. The DEIS repeatedly emphasizes that impacts would be “short term and temporary,” but we in tribal communities know better.
Historical trauma is something we’re all familiar with in Indian Country. What Enbridge and the State need to recognize is that the extraction industry across North America is inflicting trauma on native peoples right now. They can call these traumas different names, like stressors or impacts, but they are still traumas. They are wounds in the Earth and wounds to our spirits, as damaging to us as their guns and knives were in the past. Those of us who were at Standing Rock experienced intimidation, humiliation, vili cation and physical injury at the hands of state agencies acting on behalf of petrochemical companies. We know this threat, and this is our time to speak and act against it.
Tar Sands extraction in Canada is decimating First Nations, a pipeline leak here would decimate us, and in the end, the continued use of fossil fuels hurts everyone on the planet. There are so many alternatives to petrochemicals, and new technology in renewable energy is being developed every day. We must show the world that there are other ways. We are protectors, genawendangig, and we are done sacrificing our land.
The Public Utilities Commission will release a final EIS for comment in mid-August, according to mn.gov. When the comment period begins, I encourage everyone to write something to the State, even just a few lines. There will also be more public comment meetings, where we can demonstrate our sovereignty and strength. The schedule for these meetings has not yet been released.
For more information, visit stopline3.org. If you’d like to read my full comments to the State of Minnesota, visit ndn4earth.wordpress.com.
Li Boyd is a Mille Lacs Band member from Crosby.