By ERWIN FREED

Thousands of environmental justice activists and supporters of Indigenous sovereignty came together on June 5-8 to stand with Ojibwe communities in demanding an immediate end to construction, rerouting, and expanding Enbridge Energy’s Line 3 pipeline. The event featured an activist campsite at Pure Bliss Ranch on the White Earth Reservation and two days of direct mass actions. Socialist Resurgence members were honored to participate in the actions alongside our Revolutionary Socialist Network comrades from the Denver Communists and all of the other affiliated and unaffiliated activists who attended the events.

Hundreds of people have been arrested in the week since the Treaty People’s Gathering commenced. Most of the arrests were for some variant of “trespassing,” despite the many treaties that guarantee Ojibwe peoples permanent access to the lands.

According to StopLine3.Org, “Line 3 is a proposed pipeline expansion to bring nearly a million barrels of tar sands per day from Alberta, Canada, to Superior, Wisconsin.” The new pipeline route cuts directly through key points along the Mississippi River that are central habitats of wild rice. Ojibwe reservations and the land occupied by Minnesota hold some of the most extensive and healthy wild rice habitats in the world. Wild rice and the environments they live in are important parts of Ojibwe lifeways, culture, and economics in the region.

Line 3: In the courts and in the lakes

Concern over destruction from the new Line 3 path is validated by the whole history of pipelines. Leaving aside for a moment the drastic climate impact of expanding fossil fuel infrastructure, pipelines leak. In 1991, Line 3 caused the largest inland oil spill in the history of the United States, about 1.7 million gallons of crude oil. Enbridge, the Canadian multinational behind its current development, is also responsible for another notorious pipeline spill: In 2010, Enbridge-operated Line 6B spilled around a million gallons of crude into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan.

The Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) has leaked at least 10 times since it became operational four years ago. Despite massive protests in 2016-2017 and the constant vigilance of Lakota and other Indigenous activists, DAPL’s crude oil capacity is slated to be doubled. Similarly, the Keystone pipeline, predecessor to the now-canceled Keystone XL, has spilled around one million gallons of crude over the last five years.

Joe Biden campaigned on a platform of “American climate leadership” and has the power to immediately end all pipeline expansion projects. As Socialist Resurgence has previously reported, “His administration has compounded the problem by giving approval to projects that will significantly expand oil and gas drilling in the U.S. On May 25 [2021], the White House defended in federal court a giant oil-drilling project in critical habitat on Alaska’s North Slope; it had been approved by the Trump administration but faced strong opposition by environmentalists. Earlier, the administration backed Trump’s decision to grant oil and gas leases on federal land in Wyoming, and declined to halt oil flowing through the controversial Dakota Access pipeline.”

On June 14, the Minnesota Court of Appeals reaffirmed the state’s support for the Line 3 project. The logic was based on accepting the claims of fossil-fuel companies unilaterally and at face value. According to the dissenting opinion written by Justice Peter Reyes, the Public Utilities Commission effectively defined all the important variables in a way that arbitrarily equated the interests of the pipeline companies and that of the public as a whole.

Two simultaneous events

Over 70 climate justice, Indigenous, antiwar, interfaith, and other organizations endorsed the Treaty People’s Gathering in early June. Leading the coalition were the Ojibwe community itself, the RISE coalition, the Indigenous Environmental Network, Giniw Collective, and other Native groups. The coalition included over a dozen local and state 350 chapters, multiple Sunrise movement groups, and Fridays for Future. Support from these organizations helped give the TPG a youthful and relatively diverse composition. The TPG started with two days of training and community building at Pure Bliss Ranch, culminating in two mass actions on Monday, June 8. Demands were centered around honoring the treaties between the United States and the Anishinaabe, immediately stopping the construction of Line 3, and protecting the water and environment.

Organizers had a strategy of building two simultaneous events, one publicly and one more clandestinely. The public action brought out around 1700 people for a march, ceremony, occupation, and speeches at and near the Mississippi headwaters. The second, more militant, action took place around 20 miles away at a pumping station. Activists were able to take both Enbridge and the police by surprise and disrupted work for two days by chaining themselves to equipment and putting up blockades. According to Minnesota police, at least 247 people were arrested at the pumping station.

Due to the large number of supporters and, likely, the company”s and cops’ inability to fight on two fronts at once, water protectors at the larger action were able to occupy a construction site near one of the planned Mississippi River crossings. Ojibwe leaders began a four-day ceremony, and at their direction, Indigenous and non-Indigenous activists set up camp at the site on Monday. Despite a massive thunderstorm on that night, over 100 people occupied the space in a previously unplanned civil disobedience. Anishinaabe militants had tried to occupy that space multiple times in the previous months and were arrested with each attempt. Successfully holding the site was an unexpected victory. The occupation was named Camp Fire Light in honor of the sacred fire lit at the beginning of the ceremony on June 8.

While the company ceded the space for four days, repression still came. As part of the agreement for reconstructing Line 3, Minnesota has committed resources to fund a police force specifically dedicated to protecting Enbridge’s investments. These relationships were on full display as cops used Long Range Acoustic Devices—“sound cannons”—and low flying helicopters to dislodge activists at the pumping station action. It quickly came to light that the helicopter used to dangerously blow dust on water protectors was the same one that had been harassing BLM protestors at George Floyd Square for the past year. On June 15, police shut down Camp Fire Light and arbitrarily arrested 30 protesters standing on nearby public property.

Many of the participants were in high school or younger during the NoDAPL movement of five years ago. Regardless of age, the entire situation was fundamentally shaped by the heroic resistance launched at that time at the Standing Rock reservation. Anishinaabe organizers regularly described their strategy of taking the lessons from Standing Rock, e.g., mobilizing non-Indigenous people under the leadership of Indigenous water protectors to carry out mass direct actions and occupations. Socialist Resurgence members spoke with dozens of activists at the camp at Pure Bliss Ranch, virtually all of whom were hoping the fight against Line 3 would develop along the lines of NoDAPL.

A history of broken treaties

The state of Minnesota was incorporated into the United States following a number of treaties with the Ojibwe (also known as Anishinaabe(g) and, more controversially, Chippewa) peoples and a war with the Dakota (controversially called the Sioux). The main treaties, signed in 1837 (St Peter), 1842 (La Pointe I), 1854 (La Pointe II), and 1855 (Treaty of Washington), granted “settlement” rights for U.S. citizens and foresting and mining for corporations while also guaranteeing “usufructuary” or use rights for the Ojibwe. The latter explicitly include the rights of Ojibwe to hunt, fish, and farm wild rice on the ceded land and were included in every treaty excluding the Treaty of Washington. Although the 1855 treaty did not specifically mention use rights, archaeologist Charles Clealand explains, “The United States did not ask the Chippewa to surrender hunting, fishing, or gathering rights of any kind or in any place in the Treaty of 1855. It was the expectation of the Chippewa and the United States that these rights would extend into the future for both subsistence and commercial purposes.”

The federal government promised regular annual payments in exchange for the lands of what was to become Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan. At the same time, a section of the ruling class fully intended to push the Ojibwe out of the states altogether. For example, in 1850, there was a “conspiracy of a small number of Whig politicians in Washington and in the Minnesota Territory who were anxious to draw Indian patronage jobs and annuity money to the Minnesota Indian jurisdiction [through removal from other territories].” While that removal plan failed, fighting the policy cost hundreds of lives due to the decision of the federal government to withhold necessary supplies from non-compliant bands in the harsh Midwest winter in an incident sometimes known as the Sandy Lake Annuity Fiasco of 1850.

Threats of removal, episodic violence, and constant subterfuge by the U.S. government are the backdrop for virtually all treaties with Native peoples. In the case of the Ojibwe bands, following negotiations the United States regularly missed promised annuity payments and broke basic agreements. The guarantee for Anishinaabe peoples to have permanent use rights on the lands they ceded to the U.S. turned out to be a conscious lie.

Throughout the second half of the 19th century, the U.S. government consistently attempted to push all Ojibwe in Minnesota into the White Earth and Red Lake reservations. The bands refused. Instead of negotiating with them as sovereign equals, the U.S. supported the attempts by forestry and mining capital to destroy the local environment. That included flooding hundreds of thousands of acres of direct reservations and treaty lands through the construction of three dams along the Mississippi River headwaters in the 1880s. In 1882, Ojibwe leader White Cloud said of the projects, “We could and did not give assent to the damming of the river.”

Resistance to dams, arbitrary arrests of Indians, and general harassment by the United States led to the Sugar Point uprising of 1898. As the last “official” military conflict between the U.S. military and a Native tribe, the battle was sparked when two Ojibwe were arrested on bogus charges as they went to collect their annuity. Ultimately, the Anishinaabe forces, led by members of the Pillager band, trounced the U.S. military.

The victory forced Commissioner of Indian Affairs William Jones to admit that “the Indians were prompted to their outbreak by the wrongs committed against them and chafed under unfair treatment. They now will go back to their homes and live peaceably if the whites will treat them fairly, which is very likely, as the whites were thoroughly impressed with the stand taken by the Indians. In this respect the outbreak has taught them a lesson.”

Despite the victory, of course, abuse from the United States has continued. Historian and Red Lake Ojibwe member Anton Treuer states: “The U.S. government stopped making land cession treaties with the Ojibwe in 1871 but continued to erode tribal lands through other means into the next century. At Leech Lake, in northern Minnesota, the government created the Chippewa National Forest in 1928, which includes 85 percent of the reservation. The Leech Lake Ojibwe were forced to find homes for their people on the remaining 15 percent of their lands.

“After the creation of the Chippewa National Forest, the Ojibwe would never again have control of the resources or land that make up the overwhelming majority of their reservation. Starting with Chippewa National Forest and continuing today, the U.S. government has been reluctant to allow the tribe to share management of the natural resources on the reservation or any of the financial advantages. National forests are regularly logged and the timber sold, of continued benefit to the U.S. government but to the economic and ecological detriment of Ojibwe people living on the reservation. Similar acts created the Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge on the White Earth Reservation and the Rice Lake National Wildlife Refuge on the Mille Lacs Reservation, effectively denying Ojibwe access to huge portions of their own reservations without consent or compensation.”

Building the movement

One of the most important lessons from the NoDAPL uprising was the international ramifications of the Indigenous struggle in the occupied Americas. The fight against environmental destruction and continuing genocide against Lakota and other tribes sparked one of the most combative and far-reaching mass movements since the 1970s. Every social movement had to fundamentally reassess its relationship with the struggle for Indigenous liberation.

A crucial aspect of the groundswell of support for water protectors at Standing Rock was the forced recognition of the inability of the United States government and Democratic Party to really fight for Native sovereignty. Obama led the pack in making nice promises while simultaneously brutally repressing protestors. In the years since the occupation officially ended in 2017, not only has DAPL become operational but states have also passed dozens of anti-protest laws specifically targeting Indigenous water protectors.

The natural allies of the fight for Indigenous rights and getting land back are working-class and social movement organizations. Historically, however, non-Native workers and farmers have often functioned in the forefront of anti-Indigenous violence for the occupation and settlement of land that is now the United States. At the same time, there have also been tremendous moments of solidarity with the Native struggle—for example, with the occupation of Alcatraz and Standing Rock. The weight is on non-Native peoples to prove that they are genuine fighters for Indigenous liberation.

In the coming period, we can expect the Indigenous-led movement to be at the front of confrontations with the state and capitalist extraction programs. Building fighting organizations that can mobilize Native and non-Native working people to support fights for sovereignty, treaty rights, reparations, and return of stolen lands is a principle task for working people. Such demands must be fought for and integrated into all social movements. Working to realize the ongoing dispossession and impoverishment of Native communities in the occupied Americas is an essential step to creating the conditions for smashing capitalism in the United States and everywhere.

Photo by Nedahness Rose Greene / Indigenous Environmental Network