It’s been a week of Water Protecting here at the Harn.

Dan & I spent Tuesday in Rice Lake for the first of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) Public Hearing and Comment meetings.  It was a well-attended event and I was there on my first assignment as a Reporter for the Farmers Independent, our local newspaper in Bagley.  Since I was on assignment, I didn’t feel I could stand up and comment.  So I also attended the Park Rapids DEIS meeting the following day where I did get an opportunity to stand up and speak.

The Rice Lake event was on Reservation Lands and I was impressed with the focus on having a pipe and drum ceremony to begin the event.  They also asked for first, any Elders to speak and then, any Tribal Representatives.  While none chose to speak at that time, it showed thoughtful consideration of the meeting location and showed respect for the Indigenous People.

Of the 15 commenters, only one, Neal Illies – County Commissioner for District 3, spoke firmly in support of the pipeline.  One other spoke of the fact that we need pipelines but also spoke to the risks.  As a homeowner with 4 pipelines on his property, Dennis Riggs noted in his testimony that Line 3 needs to be shut down.  The remaining 13 speakers were all in strong opposition to the pipeline being run through the proposed area.  There is too much risk and not enough reward for this to be in Minnesota’s best interest.    All agreed that water is more important to life than oil.

There was special concern regarding the possibility of endangering the 1855 Treaty rights of Indigenous people. It is interesting to look at Enbridge’s proposed route.  You will notice that the routes do not cross tribal lands.  It seems the oil boys thought that, as long as they remained off the Native Lands, they would not be able to be opposed by Indigenous groups.  However, the Treaty Rights ensure that Natives have rights to clean water for their fishing, hunting, gathering, and ricing throughout the treaty area.  And Enbridge’s pipeline would run through Treaty Territory.  This would require that Enbridge not only consult with the Tribes but also that they give them an equal seat at the table.  This did not occur.

When you look at the DEIS, it seems written to make Enbridge look attractive.  It’s insulting and disgusting to see the lack of concern for the added stress this puts on Indigenous people, for the risk to generations to come, and for much of any consideration to be given to the many flora and fauna that could be affected.  One of the most disturbing things to me as I read in the portion regarding pipeline abandonment, was that Enbridge seemed more concerned with affecting infrastructure and closing roads and thus, this was reason for NOT removing the pipeline that they would instead abandon.

And the prioritization of Enbridge of infrastructure over people and animals was in the sections on Environmental Justice which noted:

“Specifically, the company considered an alternate route of the pipeline going down Interstate 94 as too dangerous because of the possibility of pipe failure and crude oil flooding the highway, causing accidents and it’s routing through populated areas.” Line 3 DEIS, Environmental Justice section

Well I say, “What about the populations where they DO plan to run the pipeline?  How are these populations acceptable to risk?”  Dan and I have had many beautiful messages from our birds and other wildlife in the last week.  On the drive home from the Rice Lake DEIS, we happened upon a male and female Sandhill Crane crossing County 2.  We stopped to let them pass and, once they had crossed, we started to advance.  But the female ran back across the road and the male advanced on our car with head tucked and wings spread wide, making himself look as threatening as he could.  He charged toward us and we noticed popping up on the original side of the road, a small baby Sandhill.  Momma escorted him across the street while Poppa kept a close eye on us.  Even after they were crossed and in the ditch, he watched us and kept up a threatening stance.  This was a reminder of the many migratory birds that are born in this area where they want to run this Tar Sands pipeline.

More recently, we’ve also seen a duck with about 8-10 ducklings and a doe with a tiny fawn crossing.  And then, a most rare sight.  A Red Fox with her pup.  It’s almost as if Nature is saying, “Thank you.  Please keep speaking for us.”

At the Rice Lake meeting Sierra Club Executive Member, Marty Cobenais, shared that Enbridge said in 2008 they “needed the Alberta Clipper” but nine months before it was built, the oil industry asked Enbridge not to build the line as it wasn’t needed.  Then Enbridge told us the Sandpiper pipeline was “needed” but Sandpiper was abandoned last year for the Dakota Access pipeline in neighboring North Dakota.  He asked, “Do they really need this project?”

Some referred to more sustainable Hemp Oil, recently given agricultural approval by the State of Minnesota, which would be a safer alternative to the Tar Sands Enbridge wants to transport across the waters and wetlands of our state.  One mentioned that Hemp could be grown in the buffer zones to help clean the runoff from the fields, making it a two-fold solution.

The elders were given an opportunity to speak first but ended up being the last speakers of the day.  Lawrence “Sam” Crowell said, “Enbridge already has the pipe staged in Lake George,” and he believes that these 22 meetings are meaningless as a decision has already been made by the state. He asks the state of Minnesota to “prove him wrong”.  Irene Auginaush told the story of how her ancestors had to keep watch over Rice Lake with shotguns to prevent farmers from pulling planks to take the water from the rice.  She said, “They fought to save our rice on Rice Lake and we are going to fight to save our rice again just like our ancestors did.  Miigwech.”

The Park Rapids meeting had a much higher attendance with a largely older and white population that filled the cafetorium of Park Rapids High School.  Again, the comments were by a large majority Anti-Pipeline.  Only a handful of the many speakers were in favor of the pipeline and several of them spoke about the importance of having the oil available for the next 50-100 years.  Are these people aware that fossil fuels are a finite resource and that we’ve almost exhausted the available sources?  There isn’t another 50 years of oil available, forget about 100!  It seems when listening to these people that I can hear the slurping of the straw sucking up the last bits and, instead of finding a new source of energy, some seem to want to keep sucking the straw in futility.

The week wrapped up with a wonderful Water Walk in Bemidji from Sanford Center to Diamond Point Park.  The Walk was led by Annie Humphrey and included the beautiful Daughter Water Walker puppet that towered over the rest of the group.  I was honored to hold one of her hands as the walk began.  It was a small but vocal group and we had lots of honks of support and cheers from passersby, several of whom decided to join us in our walk.

It gives me hope to see fellow Water Protectors walking for the Water.  I know not all of us have the time, inclination, or information on how to get involved with work like this.  But I truly believe all of us know the value of water.  It is disheartening for me to see some who seem to hold money as more important than clean water.  It may be that it is only when they must face a life without drinkable water that they will finally wake up and realize you can’t drink money.