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Reflecting on the “Treaty People Gathering”

July 1, 2021

The renowned environmental activist Wangari Maathai once said “we are faced with a challenge that calls for a shift in our thinking, so that humanity stops threatening its life-support system. We are called to assist the Earth to heal her wounds and in the process heal our own – indeed to embrace the whole of creation in all its diversity, beauty and wonder.”

Northern Minnesota has become one focal point for embracing creation and healing wounds. Enbridge, Inc., a Canadian multinational, has proposed a new pipeline to replace the aging and leaking one it has operated since 1968. The Line 3 replacement project, set to deliver 760,000 barrels of tar sands oil per day from Canada to Wisconsin, would cross Anishinaabe territory and infringe on their rights to hunt, fish, gather medicines, and harvest wild rice in clear violation of treaties dating to the mid-1800s. The proposed pipeline route would cross pristine rivers 26 times, including the Mississippi River mere miles from its headwaters.

Supporters and allies joined the Anishinaabe and Ojibwe communities in Northern Minnesota for the Treaty People Gathering from June 5th to 8th. There they stood in solidarity with Indigenous communities and learned from Tribal Elders. A range of Indigenous speakers educated supporters about their culture, land, ways of knowing, and legal issues surrounding the pipeline. Frank Bibeau, a member of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe and lawyer, explained that longstanding treaties guaranteed the Chippewa, Anishinaabe, and others the rights to utilize their traditional lands (not limited to Reservations) in Minnesota, including lands where the pipeline is sited. He said treaty rights present the most cogent legal arguments for stopping Line 3.

During the gathering, organizers trained and prepared supporters for a direct action planned on June 7th. Some of the supporters attended a march and rally near ongoing construction adjacent to the headwaters of the Mississippi River. Jane Fonda, Roseanna Arquette, and Bill McKibben spoke to the assembled crowd of 2,500, galvanizing and inspiring them to continue the fight. “There is absolutely no question that President Biden could shut down the pipeline,” Fonda said. Meanwhile, other activists drew a message in chalk to President Biden on a bridge over the Mississippi River and others walked onto the pipeline construction site in protest. At other sites nearby, activists were taking more direct nonviolent action by chaining themselves to construction equipment.

Saffet Catovic, Parliament trustee and Climate Action Task Force member, and Joshua Basofin, Director of Climate Action, both joined. Saffet liaised with a Muslim delegation and attended interfaith prayer services. Joshua helped bring food and water to protectors occupying an access road on the construction site. Saffet and Joshua both attended the rally.

Media sources across the country covered the direct action. The New York Times ran a story headlined “Line 3 Protest Tests 2 of Biden’s Campaign Pledges”. This direct action was just the beginning of a ‘summer of resistance’. Building on a much-needed infusion of energy and momentum, water protectors will continue to oppose this unnecessary and harmful pipeline project. A protest and prayer camp that had been occupying an access road on the construction site for 8 days disbanded on June 14th. But the fight continues, and water protectors will not rest until they achieve their goal of justice for Indigenous peoples and the Earth.