Indigenous Communities Lead the Fight to Stop the Line 3 Tar Sands Pipeline in Minnesota

Interview with Big Wind, a member of the Northern Arapaho Tribe and an indigenous water protector, conducted by Melinda Tuhus

The Line 3 pipeline project in Minnesota, if completed, will move up to 915,000 barrels of tar sands oil per day from Alberta, Canada to Superior, Wisconsin. Tar sands oil is one of the dirtiest energy sources on the planet. The 337-mile stretch of pipeline now being built in Minnesota would cross indigenous Anishinaabe treaty lands, threatening their sacred wild rice crop, which requires clean water to grow.

Enbridge, the largest pipeline company in the world, is planning to build the Line 3 pipeline under the Mississippi River near its headwaters, where an oil spill would impact everyone downstream.

Between The Lines’ Melinda Tuhus spent a week in northern Minnesota in early May, where she participated in a lockdown protest outside a “man camp” where out-of-state workers reside while building the Line 3 pipeline. Such camps have led to an increase in violence against indigenous women and others. While there, Tuhus spoke with several indigenous water protectors. We hear from Big Wind, member of the Northern Arapaho Tribe from the Wind River reservation in Wyoming. Here, he explains his lifelong association with the oil and gas industry, and recounts how — after spending time at the Standing Rock reservation fighting the Dakota Access pipeline five years ago — he came to be active in the Line 3 struggle.

BIG WIND: I feel like there wasn’t a time in my life when I haven’t been fighting these extractive processes and colonialism and a lot of the assimilation practices that are pushed upon us, so, at a very young age, seeing the inequalities in my own community growing up in a housing project that was right in front of a fracking and oil drilling site and the creeks that we played in, I didn’t recognize at the time, were being used for mixing and dilution of the chemicals that are used to process natural gas fracking and oil. And because of that, I started to see a lot of the impacts it was having on the people around me. I’ve had multiple friends and family pass away from rare cancers in my community. The average life expectancy is 48. And a lot of it has to do with the environmental racism we have faced for hundreds and hundreds of years, the colonial practices that have been utilized in that area.

I come from what they would consider an oil and gas tribe. Since the creation of Wyoming as a state, it’s known as the energy capital of the world. They were stealing it from us even before we were getting a piece of the pie. And so I think it did make sense at one point when we didn’t understand the ecological and climate impacts that would happen from these extractive processes, that we would want to take care of ourselves and want what was, you know, owed to us. But now we’re in this precipice of time where we recognize — from the latest climate science and traditional ecological knowledge — that this land is sick, all of it, everywhere. And so, I’ve spent a great deal of my life trying to figure out how I play into the grand scheme not only of the environmental degradation that is continually happening, but the larger impact it has on our environment and the climate. I’m a water protector who’s fighting on the front lines with ordinary people just like you, because we understand one thing: We cannot ensure the health and well-being of future generations if we don’t take action.

After I beat my cases in Standing Rock, Namewog, the camp that we’re at right now was opened up, and I came here and I came here a week after it opened. In the summer of 2018 we thought it was “Now” then. And because of a lot of things – because of the regulatory processes and the permits that were needed, there was overwhelming opposition against this pipeline. Over 300,000 people telling the president they didn’t want this pipeline to go through, and you have over 80,000 comments that were given to the Public Utility Commission, and over 95 percent of them were in opposition. You have a lot of pushback from tribal leaders, tribal organizations and environmentalists all over the U.S. and the world, telling people that we do not need to expand the Line 3 pipeline.

And that’s why I’m out here. I am accountable to the indigenous matriarchs, femmes and two-spirits who opened up this place. And as a person who identifies as a two-spirit person, I embody both masculine and feminine energy, and there is a role for us in our communities. People ask me what does it mean to be a water protector, and I think, for me, we never choose to love water. We are born in sacred water when we’re in the womb and water remembers us and we remember it, and we understand that it is vital to all living things. If you do not drink water for four days, you will die. And all of that’s in jeopardy here in northern Minnesota, and it’s not going to affect only the people here in northern Minnesota. It is going to affect everyone downstream. We have an obligation up here to stop this pipeline and to continuously stop these projects that are gonna keep coming up in the upcoming years.


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