Throwing Aboriginal People’s Policy to the Fire

Winona LaDuke

We commit to working with Indigenous communities in a manner that recognizes and respects those legal and constitutional rights and the traditional lands and resources to which they apply… - Enbridge Aboriginal People’s Policy 

This past week, White Earth tribal legal counsel and police issued a cease and desist order against Enbridge for conducting an illegal training within the borders of the White Earth reservation. Tribal resolutions have barred Enbridge from conducting business on the reservation, without approval of the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer and Tribal officials.  

Enbridge, seeing more and more pressure to complete a highly contested pipeline, seems to be taking off the gloves, and going on the offense against tribes. Between October 7-ll, Enbridge attempted to complete a “Para Archeology Certification Training for Cultural Monitors” in Mahnomen. Most certifications would require years, however, Enbridge remains hopeful that it can complete a new assessment in a timely manner.  The “Para Archeology Certification” is being conducted by Enbridge and Seven Bisons Consulting, without tribal approval.

On October 8, Tribal Attorney Veronica Newcomer issued a cease-and-desist letter to the Enbridge , noting that the White Earth Nation had adopted a White Earth Nation Research Code and had affirmed that any archeological activities would have to be approved by the White Earth Tribal Historic Preservation Officer.  You are hereby ordered to cease-and-desist the Enbridge Tribal Cultural Monitor and Survey Technician Training on or around the White Earth reservation,’ Newcomer wrote in the formal letter to Enbridge’s attorneys.
Despite White Earth jurisdiction, the corporation has been working with Gordon Construction, a tribal contractor, in an attempt to carry out activities on the reservation.  

We engage in forthright and sincere consultation with Indigenous Peoples about Enbridge’s projects and operations through processes that seek to achieve early and meaningful engagement so their input can help define our projects that may occur on lands traditionally used by Indigenous Peoples.” Enbridge Aboriginal People’s Policy notes. 

Earlier this fall, Enbridge sued the Bad River Band of Anishinaabe in Wisconsin, seeking to force the tribe to keep a 60-year-old pipeline on the reservation, despite the tribal lawsuit in federal court demanding that Enbridge remove the pipeline as the easements had expired in 2013.  The Bad River Band of the Lake Superior  had filed a complaint in July claiming that Enbridge's Line 5 pipeline is "a grave public nuisance" that poses an ever-worsening oil spill threat to the tribe’s northern Wisconsin reservation , noting that 11 of the l5 easements crossing the reservation had expired in 2013, and that Enbridge was operating without an easement. 
After the Federal Court filing, Enbridge stated that it would work with the tribe and respect their sovereignty.  Subsequently, meetings outside of reservation towns, where the pipeline could possibly find a new home, were met with opposition and hostility, particularly in Mellon, Wisconsin. There, the company was told not to return as the citizens of Melon were opposed to the pipeline.  

 Finding few friends off reservation, Enbridge responded by asking  the courts to force the tribe to comply with a 1992 agreement that the company contends requires the tribe to allow Line 5 to stay in operation until 2043 “on any reservation land in which the band has an interest” and requires the tribe “to provide assistance in obtaining easements across any non-band-owned land as well.” The agreement “certainly did not and does not permit the band to file this litigation seeking to remove the Line from the reservation prior to 2043,” the company argued.

The Bad River Band claimed in its counter-complaint that Enbridge is now illegally operating the pipeline across the tribe's Bad River Reservation, as easements  have indeed expired. The tribe alleged that Enbridge sends as much as 23 million gallons of oil and natural gas liquids through Line 5 across the reservation.

"Enough is enough," Tribal Chairman Mike Wiggins said. "Our waterways are the lifeblood of the tribe. They represent our ancestors and our past and they represent all of our hopes and dreams for the future. We are done playing games in dealing with this perpetual dance with danger." 
With increasing climate change impacts, the region is at risk for more extreme weather and flooding as the planet warms. Indeed, huge storms have laid bare large segments of the pipeline on the Bad River reservation. The Bad River is a force unto itself, and, not surprisingly, meanders wherever it wants. That’s dangerous for pipelines.

Take the Yellowstone River in Montana, for example, where exposed pipelines ruptured, leaking a total of about 93,000 gallons of oil. Citing seven similar ruptures across the country in the past three years, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, the federal regulator responsible for the safe operation of the country's energy pipelines, issued an advisory to pipeline owners earlier this year urging them to take enact various safeguards. Those haven’t happened on Bad River. 

“No amount of compensation is worth risking Wenji-Bimaadiziyaang -- an Ojibwe word that literally means “From where we get life.” It's time to end the imminent threat the company is presenting to our people, our rivers, and Gichi-Gami (Lake Superior), Chairman Mike Wiggins said. Bad River turned down a $24 million offer from Enbridge this last week.  It appears that if a tribe takes money, (ie: says yes in consultation), Enbridge will bestow gifts. If “consultation” means “no”, Enbridge will sue the tribe.  That seems fair, right?  At some point No should actually mean No.  Consultation is not the same as consent, and the standard internationally is “ free, prior and informed consent”. Simply stated, No means No , if you are a woman, or if you are a First Nation. Consent is the standard of this millennium. 

 As controversies over Line 3 and 5 continue to grow, the company seems to be “taking off the gloves,” and their aboriginal people’s policy is a paltry paper.