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Pipeline battle brews in Minnesota between Indigenous tribes and a major oil company

A protracted stand-off between a major oil company and northern Indigenous American tribes intensified this week over the construction of a pipeline in Minnesota. Tara Houska, an attorney, founder of the advocacy organization Giniw Collective and a member of the Couchiching First Nation, joins Stephanie Sy from the construction site where the pipeline is being built.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    A protracted stand-off between a major oil company and Northern indigenous American tribes intensified today.

    Stephanie Sy has the story.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    A pipeline battle brewing in Minnesota, today, with the largest show of resistance yet.

  • Protester:

    We will…

  • Protesters:

    Stop Line 3!

  • Protester:

    We must…

  • Protesters:

    Stop Line 3!

  • Stephanie Sy:

    More than 1,000 protesters from across the country called for a halt to construction, rerouting part of Enbridge's Line 3 pipeline.

    The Canadian-based energy company transports oil produced from the tar sands in Alberta, Canada, to refineries in Superior, Wisconsin.

    Since 2014, it has sought to replace a section that runs through Northern Minnesota. The new 340-mile replacement pipe would nearly double the amount of oil carried, while crossing more than 200 bodies of water and 800 acres of wetlands. It would also run between three reservations.

  • Protesters:

    Stop Line 3!

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Resistance has only intensified since construction began in December.

  • Protester:

    Stop Line 3!

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Dozens of protesters have been arrested.

  • Man:

    Get out of the area immediately or be placed under arrest.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Opponents say the pipeline risk builds in sensitive areas where Native Americans, the Ojibwe tribes, have treaty rights to hunt, fish and harvest wild rice.

    Environmental groups also fear tar sands oil, one of the dirtiest forms of fossil fuel, will worsen climate change and threaten water resources.

    Those concerns are not unwarranted. In 1991, the Prairie River in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, was contaminated with nearly 1.7 million gallons of crude oil that leaked from the Line 3 pipeline, the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history.

    Now Line 3 is facing legal challenges at the state and federal level, but pressure is mounting for President Biden to intervene, as he did when he canceled the Keystone XL pipeline in January.

    Jane Fonda, Actor and Activist: There is absolutely no question that President Biden could shut down the pipeline, Line 3.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Celebrities, including actress Jane Fonda, joined that call today.

  • Jane Fonda:

    Going to keep coming back and making a ruckus.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Enbridge says the replacement pipeline will bring thousands of jobs to the region, meet higher demand for oil and deliver it more safely. The project is already more than half finished.

    For more on today's demonstrations and what's at stake for the Native tribes behind them, we turn to Tara Houska, an attorney and the founder of the advocacy organization Giniw Collective. She is a member of the Couchiching First Nation.

    Ms. Houska, you are actually joining us, I understand, from the construction site where this pipeline is being built. Talk us through how you believe this pipeline is going to impact Native tribes.

  • Tara Huoska, Founder, Giniw Collective:

    The impacts of this project are very clear.

    It is a threat to our watersheds, to our wild rice tributaries, to these beautiful places we call home. It proposes to pass through over 200 water bodies, 800 wetlands, and dozen of wild rice watersheds along its path. And, obviously, folks are here to say that that is not going to happen and our wild rice matters.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Tell me what happened at protest today. I know you were expecting hundreds of people. Were there any arrests? Were there confrontations? Do you feel it was successful?

  • Tara Huoska:

    Yes, there is actually over 2,000 folks that have shown up here in Northern Minnesota doing multiple actions at different sites.

    There have not been any, like, really aggressive police confrontations. I think they are quite actually overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of folks that are here and perhaps didn't realize the level of support that Native nations have and front lines groups have across Turtle Island and the concerns that people all jointly share about our water and our future.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    And what are you all calling for? Are you expecting that President Biden is going to cancel this project, the way he did with the Keystone XL pipeline back in December?

  • Tara Huoska:

    If there is a want to avoid civil unrest, if there is a want to uphold tribal sovereignty, and to be a climate champion, there is no way that this project should be allowed to move forward.

    Line 3 is the equivalent of the emissions equivalents of 50 coal-fired plants. There are three Ojibwe nations suing against its approval. It is the violation of not only indigenous rights, but of the rights of future generations to have a habitable plant.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    So, you are talking about both a climate change issue and an indigenous rights issue.

    But there has been some tribes that have backed this pipeline. And there are some tribal members that are even working for the company, Enbridge, which says this is going to provide thousands of jobs. What do you have to say to them?

  • Tara Huoska:

    I'm born and raised in Northern Minnesota.

    I am well aware of the fact that most of the good-paying jobs in places like this are jobs that involve construction. There are jobs that require us to destroy natural world around us, whether it's cutting down the forests,extracting minerals from the earth, or building fossil fuel infrastructure projects that we are left to deal with the risks of.

    There needs to be investment into our economies. There needs to be respect for our economies, our existing economies, like the economy of wild rice. And it is time for something different. You know, the thousands of jobs that were promised, they were supposed to be all those local jobs; 75 percent is what they said. It's less than 33 percent.

    And most of those jobs are not the high-paying union jobs. They're the contracted security workers and things like that. This is not a big, huge influx of resources into our economies. This is very temporary and shortsighted. And we're the ones that have to deal with all the risks, when these guys go home and start counting their checks.

    And by these guys, I mean Enbridge.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Ms. Houska, you are also a tribal attorney.

    Besides the protests, like you're seeing today, the acts of civil disobedience, what legal recourse remains? The project is more than 60 percent done. It's supposed to be done by the end of the year. How do you stop it from becoming operational at this point?

  • Tara Huoska:

    Obviously, there are folks who are here that are saying that that's not going to happen.

    And I would say that Enbridge had promised that its pipeline project would be running years ago to its shareholders, and it's still not running. And it's because of the people coming together and the regulatory review process, indirect actions on the ground, in courts, in litigation that's prevented them every single step of the way.

    We don't want this project. And there is multiple losses. There are multiple lawsuits that are proceeding, which include Minnesota's own Department of Commerce suing Minnesota's Public Utility Commission, the state actually suing itself, because this pipeline was not actually justified, in terms of need and oil forecast.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Tara Houska is joining us from the construction site of the Line 3 pipeline in Northern Minnesota.

    Ms. Houska, thank you for your time.

  • Tara Huoska:

    Thank you so much.

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