PARK RAPIDS, Minn. — Winona LaDuke and a small group of opponents of the Line 3 oil pipeline replacement project braved frigid winds Tuesday, Dec. 15, to demonstrate outside the Enbridge Energy office in Park Rapids, Minn.

LaDuke described her confederates as water protectors, leading them in salsa dance moves while they carried signs saying “Mother Earth revolution,” “We are here for the future,” “Stop Line 3 tar sands pipeline. Protect climate, water, treaties” and “Love water, not oil.”

“We’re here because the Enbridge Corporation started construction on a pipeline in the middle of a pandemic, bringing 4,200 workers into northern Minnesota during that pandemic, and running kind of roughshod across the country,” LaDuke said. “We’d like our day in court, and we’d like the governor to not arrest water protectors.”

She said they plan the demonstrations to be a weekly event.

LaDuke noted that 22 pipeline protesters were arrested Monday in Aitkin County, and she expects more arrests relating to the issue.

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“This is what water protectors look like,” she added, gesturing at the folks around her. “We’re proud residents of Minnesota, and we’re here to protect our water.”

Enbridge received final regulatory approval to begin construction on the line replacement last week. The pipeline passes through Hubbard County en route from Edmonton, Alberta to Superior, Wis.

“Right now, they are going from the water crossings of the Shell and the Crow Wing (rivers),” LaDuke said. “The thing is that oil and water don’t mix. That’s one thing we know. We’ve got the best water in the world up here. Let’s protect it.”

Indigenous voices

LaDuke is a citizen of the White Earth Indian Reservation and executive director of Honor the Earth, an Indigenous environmental justice organization.

With her at the demonstration was Tania Aubid of East Lake, Minn., who said she wants to bring awareness to stop Line 3 from infringing on Native American homelands encompassed by the U.S. government’s 1855 treaty with the Ojibwe people.

“It’s time that the narrative is going to be flipped,” Aubid said, “because the historical trauma that this pipeline is bringing in our communities, across our treaty territories, that’s got to stop. It’s got to be recognized that the treaties are the supreme laws of the land.”

Aubid said Enbridge has not obtained a permit from the Ojibwe Warriors Society. “I’m going to let them know that they need that permit to continue this construction,” she said. “Otherwise it’s an illegal construction. Already the native immigration officers are going to be on their way to escort these illegal immigrants that are working on this pipeline out of here.”

She said Enbridge should be fined for trespassing, “and not only that, but the stress that is being inflicted upon our people, and to the lands and the animals also.”

RELATED: Line 3 work has begun in Hubbard, Wadena counties

Allies in support

Park Rapids resident Florence Hedeen said she has been working for clean air and water since Enbridge first announced its plans to replace the pipeline, about seven years ago.

“There is no reason that those same dollars can’t be going into clean energy to support the needs that we have as a community,” Hedeen said. “Please, Enbridge, change course. We do not need Line 3.”

Shanai Matteson, a young ally of the Native American-led opposition to Line 3, came from Aitkin County to participate in the protest. “That’s where my family has been for five generations,” she said. “It really hurts to see how much destruction has been done in just the last few weeks.”

Matteson said she is tired of being lied to. “You know, that these are the good jobs, destroying the place that we come from,” she said. “That’s wrong. We can’t keep doing that. I don’t want my kids to grow up and have that be their only option. We need a green future. We need a just transition, and I’m ready for it.”

“I’m just really angry and disappointed about how much humans have been destroying the earth and the habitat,” said Carol Ashley. “I love nature, and I want generations after me to be able to enjoy it. Creating more pipelines and doing more oil … we have to address climate change. This isn’t the way to do it.”

‘Enough duress’

In an update to her supporters during the protest, LaDuke said the group’s latest appeal to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission was based on the health risk of workers entering the area during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We feel like we’ve had enough duress,” she said. “We’ve had a tough year. We had riots in Minneapolis, and we had a very, very turbulent election. It would just be great to have a winter of rest, and then start in the spring.”

Despite appeals by the Minnesota Department of Commerce, the tribes and Friends of the Headwaters, she said, all the permits for the project were issued.

“Just to be clear,” she added, “the (Minnesota Department of Natural Resources) just gave away 630 million gallons of water to Enbridge. They get to move it in between basins and de-water lakes and wetlands, and the (Minnesota Pollution Control Agency) just gave away all the water permits. We’ve opposed those, and as you might have noticed, 12 of the 17 members of the MPCA’s environmental justice board resigned with that decision.”

RELATED: Minnesota regulators decline to halt Line 3 construction

‘Rocks and pipes’

LaDuke claimed that she has already been cited for violating an exclusion ordinance, barring unauthorized persons from the construction site adjacent to the Mississippi River, that was issued by the DNR on Dec. 11.

“They passed that ordinance last Friday,” she said, “and on Saturday, I was in the lodge when they came, and they cited me after they posted it. In other words, I was sitting in my lodge when they posted it, for which I received a citation for trespass. To be really clear, this is all public land … that we’re being excluded from.”

She said six others were also cited for trespassing, while many opponents of the pipeline project have been coming forward.

“I just want to be clear that water protectors are not criminals,” she said. “We’re patriots. We’re protecting our water from a Canadian multinational corporation. … We’re hoping that the governor sees what a turmoil has been caused.”

Regarding the 22 who were arrested while protesting near the pipeline’s Mississippi River crossing, LaDuke said all but one were women, their ages ranging from 18 to 65. As a result, Aitkin County’s jails were full, she said.

“Is this what our police force needs to do? It would have been a good day to speed in Aitkin County, because they had 30 cops” patrolling the protest, LaDuke said.

In response to concerns that the project provides needed jobs, she added, “I want jobs that don’t cause conflict. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life fighting over rocks and pipes. Let’s say we make an economy that has local food, has green energy, that manufactures things that make sense. I’m ready for the new green revolution. I think that Minnesota deserves that. I think that northern Minnesota and … the people of Hubbard County deserve better than a Canadian pipeline full of conflict and tar sands.”