It’s been 10 months since I first arrived at Thacker Pass and began work to protect the land from a proposed open-pit lithium mine in earnest. Today I share this video reporting from the land and sharing reflections on where the movement to protect this place is at right now and where we are going. When we do fight, winning is not guaranteed. It takes a lot of people and a lot of hard work to even begin to have an impact.
But if we don’t fight, we will never win. We guarantee failure. Choosing to fight is important. So is fighting intelligently. Many battles are won or lost before there is any actual conflict. The preparation, planning, training, organization, logistics, and other behind-the-scenes work is where the magic happens.
I hope this video speaks to you and you find some inspiration. 🌎
Hello, everyone. For those who don’t know, I’m here at a place that’s known today as Thacker Pass. The original Paiute name for this place is Peehee Mu’huh. The history of this land has really come to light since we’ve been here.
It was January 15, that my friend Will Falk and I set up camp on this land. It was just two of us; we didn’t know if anyone would pay attention or if anything would come of it. And we still don’t know; we still don’t know if we’re going to win, we still don’t know if we’re going to protect this land, because a company called lithium Nevada plans to turn this entire landscape into an open pit lithium mine. They want to blow it up and turn it into a mine to extract the lithium and turn it into batteries.
There’s a huge booming demand for batteries–for everything from electric cars to grid energy storage to electric power tools and smartphones. Partly, this is a consequence of industry and forces that are beyond our control: powerful individuals and corporations like Tesla, Elon Musk, this company with him Nevada, and many others. And partly it’s a result of our consumer culture. Of course, these are inseparable. There’s a book called Manufacturing Consent that talks about the media, about advertising, and analyzes these systems and how they create demand.
So this entire place is under threat, and it has been under threat for a long time now. We’ve been fighting since January. We’ve been fighting in the realm of public opinion, talking to the media, making videos, writing articles, discussing the issues, educating people about the harms of this type of mining.
Mining is one of the most destructive industrial activities that humans have ever undertaken, and in fact, it goes back further than the Industrial Revolution. There are mines from the Roman Empire that are over 2000 years old, which are still toxic and poisoning the land around them. The air pollution that was released by Roman mines across Europe can still be measured in the ice in Greenland.
There’s no way around the base fact of mining: that you’re blowing up the land, destroying it, breaking into pieces, scooping it up, and taking it to turn it into products. To turn it into money ultimately.
This mine, according to the mine’s supporters, is a green mine, because this lithium will be used to build electric cars, and to build batteries to support so called green energy technologies like solar and wind. Now, I used to support these things. I used to think they were a great idea. I don’t anymore. It’s not because my values have changed. I still value the planet, I’m still very concerned about global warming, and the ecological crisis that we find ourselves in. And in fact, that’s the reason why I oppose mines like this.
Because those stories that tell us that mining a place like this will save the world are lies. They’re lies and they have been told to us in order to facilitate businesses taking land like this and destroying it and turning it into profit. This is a story that we have seen again and again, throughout the generations. The substance that’s being pulled out of the ground might be different, but for the creatures who live here, for the water, the air, the soil, the surrounding communities of humans, whether or not to oppose a mine like this is really a question of courage. Because the truth is, this is not a green mine. The Earth does not want this mine. The land, the water, the non-human species who live here–they don’t want this mine. Humans want it. And humans who are from a consumeristic, first world, wealthy nation want it, so that they can benefit from the consumer goods that would be produced.
A lot of people want to live in a fantasy and tell themselves that we can solve global warming and reverse the ecological crisis by producing millions of electric cars, and switching en masse from coal power to solar and wind and so on.
This is a lie.
And it’s the best kind of lie. Because it’s very convincing. It’s very convincing. It tells people that they can have their cake and eat it too, that they can still live this modern high energy lifestyle, that life can continue more or less as we have known it. And yet, we can fix everything, we can save the world. It’s not true, but it’s very convincing. It’s very comforting to many people.
So sometimes I feel like I’m out here just bursting people’s bubbles. A lot of people don’t want that bubble burst–they want to hang on to it. They want to hang on to it at all costs, and they will delude themselves, they will lie to themselves repeatedly. And they will lie to others to continue to have that fantasy. Because the truth is not so easy to face.
The truth is that over the last 200 years, and far longer, this culture has laid waste to the ecology of this planet. The natural world is crumbling, under the assaults of industrial culture, civilization, colonization, capitalism. Whatever terms you want to define the problem with, the issues are the same. The world is being destroyed for future generations, and nonhumans are living through an ecological nightmare right now. And it’s a nightmare of our own making. It’s a nightmare that this culture has created and perpetuates every day.
So we have to face this, like adults, like elders with wisdom, with the ability to not shy away from difficult situations. And that takes courage. It takes courage because you’re going up against not just the capitalists and the businesses, you’re going up against–in many cases–your own friends and family. You’re going up against the mainstream environmental movement. You’re going up against the Democratic Party and the progressives, and much of the socialist movement. You’re going up against a large portion of the culture. And of course you’re going up against the fossil fuel oligarchs and the old industrial elite as well.
You know, I’ve felt pretty lonely out here. It’s felt pretty lonely at times throughout this fight, when we’ve had trouble getting people to join us on the ground, when we’ve had trouble getting support. At other times that support has come and has been very strong, and people have joined us here. I hope more people will continue to join us not just here but start their own fights.
We’ve seen the fight against the lithium mine down in Hualapai territory in what’s now called Arizona ramping up after Ivan Bender came up here and visited this place and talk to us and we had some great conversations about how we’re doing it here and how we’re fighting. That’s what I want to see. That’s That means a lot to me to see that.
So it’s a beautiful night here, the sun setting, and I’m thinking about all the people who’ve worked on this campaign; the hundreds and thousands of hours that have been poured into trying to protect this land. Because if this mine goes in this place is ruined for generations. I don’t know how long but hundreds of years, at least, if it’ll ever come back, if it’ll ever be like it is now.
The Bureau of Land Management is the federal government agency that manages this land here. They’ve been lying throughout the process. They’ve been acting unethically. They’ve been harassing people, they’ve been misrepresenting the situation; misrepresenting the facts, and we think they’re violating multiple federal laws. Those laws aren’t that strong. The laws to protect this planet are not as strong as I wish they were. But they’re violating even those weak laws.
So we’re going to keep fighting. We’re going to keep fighting to protect this place. We’re going to keep fighting for this land. We’re going to keep fighting for what’s right. Because if you don’t, then what is your soul worth? Where’s your self respect?
You know, those are questions, we each have to ask ourselves. I can’t answer it for you. I don’t know what your life is; your situation. It’s so easy to defeat ourselves in our minds.
And the first step to any resistance; to any organizing; to any opposition like this–is to believe that we can do something about it. And the truth is we can. It’s the simple truth we can. We can change things. But if we don’t try then we’ll lose every time.
As the Glasgow climate conference begins, and the time we have to avert a climate crisis narrows, it is time to revisit successful First Nations campaigns against the fossil fuel industry.
Like the current fight to avert a climate catastrophe, these battles are good, old-fashioned, come-from-behind, David-versus-Goliath examples we can all learn from. The Jabiluka campaign is a good example.
In the late 1990s, a mining company, Energy Resources of Australia, was planning to expand its Kakadu uranium mine into Jabiluka, land belonging to Mirarr Traditional Owners in the Northern Territory. The adjacent Ranger Uranium mine had been operating for 20 years without Traditional Owners’ consent and against their wishes, causing long-term cultural and environmental destruction.
But the expansion of the mine ultimately failed, thanks to an extraordinary campaign by the Traditional Owners, led by Yvonne Margarula and a relative, the lead author of this article, Jacqui Katona (a Djok woman).
In recognition of our work, we shared the 1999 Goldman Environmental Prize, one of the most prestigious international grassroots environmental awards.
The campaign included a huge on-site protest camp, shareholder action and significant overseas support (including from the European Parliament, US Congress and an expert committee to UNESCO). It also included a blockade of the mine site – one of the biggest blockades Australia had ever seen.
These are valuable lessons for those wanting to take decisive action against the fossil fuel industry. Here are six ways to learn from our experience:
1. Put pressure on the financial sector
Continuous pressure on companies in the financial sector (such as banks), which are complicit in the success of fossil fuel companies, can have an impact. This can be done by exposing their involvement with fossil fuels and pressuring them to be held accountable for these partnerships.
One of the most successful actions of the Jabiluka campaign was the coordination of protests at Westpac, which financed the mine’s owner, Energy Resources of Australia. Not only did protesters raise awareness about Westpac’s investment at local branches, they created bureaucratic chaos by opening and closing bank accounts.
This resulted in a corporate shift in Westpac towards better accountability on issues affecting First Nations people. Coordinated protests like this are an effective way to empower people to participate in positive action for change.
First Nations campaigns against mining and other fossil fuel companies show the single most important factor in successful protests is leadership by politically powerful organisations or alliances.
In the Jabiluka campaign, Katona and Margarula were successful in large part because of their insistence on a Mirrar-led campaign forming strong alliances with powerful unions, environmental groups and other national and international organisations.
Shareholders were then able to have some influence over corporate responsibility and accountability, including the appointment of a sustainable development manager. While the government ultimately amended the Corporations Act to make such actions more difficult, this nevertheless shows that creative direct action can be successful in holding corporations accountable.
4. Win over the right people
When Rio Tinto detonated 46,000-year-old rock shelters at Juukan Gorge on the traditional land of the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura peoples last year, it was not only public outcry that led to the resignation of three senior executives, including the chief executive.
Katona led the Jabiluka campaign while a mother to two small children, juggling local work with international activism. She was jailed for trespassing on Aboriginal land. She was hospitalised with complications from lupus, which required a long recovery.
Be strategic about your participation in high-energy campaigns and find ways to support the efforts of key activists. But also know the fight against the fossil fuel industry takes more effort than just changing your social media profile picture.
There is no perfect time, or single solution, to campaigning for a better future. The power of people is a resource which often delivers inspiration to disrupt and needs to be nurtured.
6. Believe you can win
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities have faced hundreds of years of colonisation, industrial desecration of their sacred lands, and destruction of their Country. However in many cases, they have won battles against the odds.
The Mirrar faced a discriminatory system which sidelined their interests in Kakadu for more than 20 years. But they continued their fight to protect Country, and ultimately succeeded in preventing Jabiluka’s expansion.
So take heart and don’t give up. This is a fight that can be won.
BREAKING: As Joe Biden talks of being a climate leader at #COP26 in Glasgow we received our first letter & update from #JessicaReznicek for the people. Jessica is a climate / water protector political prisoner in the U.S. who was labeled a terrorist just months ago by the US government for her nonviolent action against #DAPL. She asked we share this with all of you!
I am reaching back out to you to express gratitude for your love and support. These are without doubt difficult times, but your kindness helps to soften the blow. The human spirit certainly is resilient and with your prayers and friendship I am able to overcome obstacles much more gratefully.
A few updates in my world: Through the help of many supporters I am excited to say I have sent out my admissions form to the University of Colorado and in January plan to be enrolled in B.S. Sociology program.
I’ve been approved to volunteer at snow shoveling this coming winter. I’m so happy to very soon be getting outdoors more!
In 2 weeks I’ll be completing a tutoring program and will soon be tutoring my fellow inmates in GED classes, creative writing, empowering women courses and more. Great opportunity for me given so many obstacles.
I am making progress in being accepted into the PAWS program. I am currently being recommended to fill a position that will be opening in January. The new puppies will be arriving at the end of December.
As for hobbie I’m drawing a lot and learning to play the piano. Super peace-giving pastimes.
Anyway, I love you all. I truly do. I am human, so it would be dishonest to not share the other side of things. I’m battling depression and at times still in shock about where I am and for how long I’ll be here. One day at a time! Thank you again for your prayers and love, Peace, Jessica Reznicek”
Please continue to share Jessica’s story as her appeal & petition move forward!
Author Paul Watson has no problem with critics calling him and his marine-life-defending colleagues pirates—it’s far better than helplessly standing by and doing nothing in the face of the violence against animals they have witnessed.
In 1975, Robert Hunter and I were the first people to physically block a harpooner’s line of fire when we intercepted a Soviet whaling fleet and placed our bodies between the killers and eight fleeing, frightened sperm whales. We were in a small inflatable boat, speeding before the plunging steel prow of a Russian kill boat. As the whales fled for their lives before us, we could smell the fear in their misty exhalations. We thought we could make a difference with our Gandhi-inspired seagoing stand. Surely these men behind the harpoons would not risk killing a human being to satisfy their lust for whale oil and meat. We were wrong.
The whalers demonstrated their contempt for our nonviolent protests by firing an explosive harpoon over our heads. The harpoon line slashed into the water and we narrowly escaped death. One of the whales was not so lucky. With a dull thud followed by a muffled explosion, the entrails of a female whale were torn and ripped apart by hot steel shrapnel.
The large bull sperm whale in the midst of the pod abruptly rose and dove. Experts had told us that a bull whale in this situation would attack us. We were a smaller target than the whaling ship. Anxiously, we held our breath in anticipation of sixty tons of irate muscle and blood torpedoing from the depths below our frail craft.
The ocean erupted behind us. We turned toward the Soviet ship to see a living juggernaut hurl itself at the Russian bow. The harpooner was ready. He pulled the trigger and sent a second explosive missile into the massive head of the whale. A pitiful scream rang in my ears, a fountain of blood geysered into the air, and the deep blue of the ocean was rapidly befouled with dark red blood. The whale thrashed and convulsed violently.
Mortally wounded and crazed with pain, the whale rolled, and one great eye made contact with mine. The whale dove, and a trail of bloody bubbles moved laboriously toward us. Slowly, very slowly, a gargantuan head emerged from the water, and the whale rose at an angle over and above our tiny craft. Blood and brine cascaded from the gaping head wound and fell upon us in torrents.
We were helpless. We knew that we would be crushed within seconds as the whale fell upon us. There was little time for fear, only awe. We could not move.
The whale did not fall upon us. He wavered and towered motionless above us. I looked up past the daggered six-inch teeth and into the eye the size of my fist, an eye that reflected back intelligence and spoke wordlessly of compassion and communicated to me the understanding that this was a being that could discriminate and understood what we had tried to do. The mammoth body slowly slid back into the sea.
The massive head of this majestic sperm whale slowly fell back into the sea. He rolled and the water parted, revealing a solitary eye. The gaze of the whale seized control of my soul, and I saw my own image reflected back at me. I was overcome with pity, not for the whale but for ourselves. Waves of shame crashed down upon me and I wept. Overwhelmed with horror at this revelation of the cruel blasphemy of my species, I realized then and there that my allegiance lay with this dying child of the sea and his kind. On that day, I left the comfortable realm of human self-importance to forever embrace the soulful satisfaction of lifelong service to the citizens of the sea.
The gentle giant died with my face seared upon his retina. I will never forget that. It is a memory that haunts and torments me and leaves me with only one course to chart toward redemption for the collective sins of humanity. It is both my burden and my joy to pledge my allegiance to the most intelligent and profoundly sensitive species of beings to have ever inhabited the Earth––the great whales.
Reykjavik, Iceland, November 1986
Despite the criticisms, the name-calling, and the controversy that have arisen from our work since 1975, one indisputable fact emerged from a raid made by my crew (which included Rod Coronado of the U.S. and David Howitt of the UK) on two whaling ships in Reykjavik in 1986 in order to enforce an international moratorium on commercial whaling that had been established that year: it was successful.
The two whaling ships were razed, although their electronics and mechanical systems had been totally destroyed. Insurance did not cover the losses because the owners had stated that terrorists sank the ships, and apparently they were not insured for terrorism.
Most importantly, from that day of November 8, 1986, to sixteen years later in the year 2002, the Icelanders did not take another whale. What talk, compromise, negotiations, meetings, letters, petitions, and protests had not accomplished, we achieved with a little monkey-wrenching activity in the wee hours of the morning.
Were we terrorists? No, not even criminals, for we were never charged with a crime, even though we made ourselves available for prosecution. We had simply done our duty, and we put an end to an unlawful activity.
The only repercussion was that Iceland moved before the International Whaling Commission (IWC) in 1987 that the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society be banned from holding observer status at the meetings of the IWC. After this passed, Iceland resigned from the IWC, leaving us with the distinction of being the only organization to enjoy the status of banishment from the IWC.
How ironic, I thought, to be the only organization banned from the IWC because we were the only organization to have ever enforced an IWC ruling.
It was not much of a punishment. I had never enjoyed listening to the delegates of the member nations barter whales like they were bushels of wheat or pork bellies. I also never had much use for the posturing of the nongovernmental organizations pretending that they were actually making a difference by attending this annual circus. All that we were interested in were the rulings of the IWC, and we fully intended to continue to enforce those rulings.
I have been asked many times why we consider the IWC rulings important. Why not just oppose all whaling everywhere? The answer is that we do oppose all whaling by everyone, everywhere. However, we only actively attack whaling operations that are in violation of international conservation law. The reason for this is simple: We do not presume to be the judges and jury. We simply execute the rulings of the IWC or the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) or any rulings from international conservation authorities, and we do so in accordance with the definition of intervention as defined by the 1982 United Nations World Charter for Nature, Part III (Implementation), Principle 21, Section (e): “States and, to the extent they are able, other public authorities, international organizations, individuals, groups and corporations shall… Safeguard and conserve nature in areas beyond national jurisdiction.”
As a seaman, I have a great and abiding respect for the traditions of the law of the sea. To attack without a vested authority would be piracy. Thus, the difference between a privateer like Sir Francis Drake and a pirate like Blackbeard was that the former was in possession of a letter of marque from a sovereign authority and the latter practiced the same trade solely upon his own authority.
I have never considered it my place to judge the illegal activities of others. However, I feel that when there are laws and international treaties that it is the responsibility of individuals and nongovernmental organizations to strive toward the implementation of these rulings, especially in light of the fact that there is no international body empowered to police these international laws. Nation-states intervene when it is advantageous for them to do so, but little enforcement is carried out in the interests of the common good of all citizens of the planet.
It is worth noting that it was not the British or Spanish navies that brought the piracy of the Caribbean under control in the 17th century. There were too many conflicts of interest, too much corruption, and too little motivation for any real action to have been taken. The bureaucracies in the British admiralty and the Spanish court did nothing because the very nature of a bureaucracy is the maintenance of the status quo. The achievement of first shutting down piracy on the Spanish Main is attributed to one man––a pirate himself.
Henry Morgan did what two nations chose not to do: he drove the pirates to ground and ended their reign of terror. As a result, the “pirate” was made governor of Jamaica, although history would show that the man was far more effective as a pirate than as a politician. In fact, he was more of a pirate as a politician than he was as an actual pirate.
When Andrew Jackson failed to get the support of the merchants of New Orleans to back his attack on the British, it was a pirate who came to his service in the personage of Jean Lafitte. When the United States successfully endeavored to cast off the yoke of British rule, it was a pirate who achieved the most dramatic and successful naval victory at sea. That person was captain John Paul Jones. Consequently, it is a pirate who was the founder of what is today the world’s most powerful navy.
Today, with the pirates of corrupt industry aided by corrupt politicians plundering our oceans for the last of the fish, killing the last of the whales, and polluting the waters, we find that there is very little real resistance to their activities upon the high seas. Once again it is time for some good pirates to rise up in opposition to the bad pirates, and I believe that the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is just such an organization of good pirates.
When our critics call us pirates, I have no problem with that. In fact, we have taken their criticisms and in an aikido-like manner; we have incorporated their accusations into our image. Our ships are sometimes painted a monochromatic black. We have designed our own version of the pretty red [a flag which, when translated to French, becomes “joli rouge” and is rumored to have inspired the “jolly roger” phrase applied to pirate flags], and our black-and-white flag flies from our mast during campaigns. We even carry cannons, with the difference being that our guns fire cream pies and not red-hot balls.
As good pirates, we have evolved to suit the time and culture in which we live, and this being a media-defined culture, our primary weapons are the camera, the video, and the internet. Like modern-day Robin Hoods, we take from the greedy and give back to the sea. We don’t profit materially, but we profit tremendously both spiritually and psychologically.
Captain Paul Watson is a Canadian-American marine conservation activist who founded the direct action group the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society in 1977 and was more recently featured in Animal Planet’s popular television series “Whale Wars” and the documentary about his life, “Watson.” Sea Shepherd’s mission is to protect all ocean-dwelling marine life. Watson has authored or co-authored more than a dozen books, including Death of a Whale (2021), Urgent! (2021), Orcapedia (2020), Dealing with Climate Change and Stress (2020), The Haunted Mariner (2019), and Captain Paul Watson: Interview with a Pirate (2013).
In response to the completion of the contested Line 3 pipeline, which is now reportedly operational, thousands of Indigenous leaders and climate justice advocates are kicking off the “People vs. Fossil Fuels’’ mobilization, an Indigenous-led five-day action of civil disobedience at the White House to demand President Biden declare a climate emergency, divest from fossil fuels and launch a “just renewable energy revolution.” “This pipeline doesn’t respect treaty rights,” says Winona LaDuke, longtime Indigenous activist and founder of Honor the Earth, a platform to raise awareness of and money for Indigenous struggles for environmental justice. “They’re just trying to continue their egregious behavior. It’s so tragic that, on the one hand, the Biden administration is like, ’We’re going to have Indigenous Peoples’ Day, but we’re still going to smash you in northern Minnesota and smash the rest of the country.’” LaDuke faces criminal charges linked to her protest of pipelines in three different counties.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, as we continue to talk about Indigenous action to save our Earth. This week, thousands of Indigenous leaders and climate justice advocates are expected to participate in a historic five-day massive action of civil disobedience at the White House to continue to pressure President Biden to declare a climate emergency, divest from fossil fuels and launch a, quote, “just renewable energy revolution.”
The “People vs. Fossil Fuels” mobilization, led by the Indigenous Environmental Network, 350.org, Sunrise Movement, the Center for Biological Diversity and others, comes as Canadian pipeline company Enbridge has completed the construction of its contested Line 3 crude oil pipeline in northern Minnesota. The pipeline is reportedly now operational, violating the treaty rights of local Indigenous communities. Line 3 is set to carry over half a million barrels of tar sands oil every day from Alberta, Canada, through Minnesota to the tip of Lake Superior in Wisconsin, threatening sacred wild rice watersheds in Minnesota, local waters and lands, and doubling Minnesota’s greenhouse gas emissions.
Indigenous leaders and land and water defenders, who have been resisting Line 3 for years, often putting their own bodies on the line, vowed to continue the fight against the pipeline. Last week, a small group of water protectors confronted Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar at a fundraising event, where advocates say plates cost $1,000 a person, demanding her to take action against Line 3.
WATER PROTECTOR: We’re asking you to call on President Biden to stop Line 3. It has a higher carbon footprint than the entire state of Minnesota. And this climate crisis — I mean, you saw Hurricane Ida. You saw how many people died. And we just really need you to call on him and ask him to stop it.
AIDE: Excuse us.
SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR: Thank you. Yes, I know about the concern.
WATER PROTECTOR: Because you have so much power. You have so much power.
SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR: I’ve brought those concerns to him. Thank you.
WATER PROTECTOR: And as a young person, the climate crisis is a thing that really concerns me, and stopping Line 3. We can’t have climate justice without you stopping Line 3 and asking President Biden.
SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR: Thank you.
WATER PROTECTOR: I know that you don’t have a vote, and I know that you can’t vote in the Senate to stop Line 3. But President Biden has that power. And you have the power.
AMY GOODMAN: “You have the power.” More than 900 water protectors have been arrested over their resistance to Line 3, with some protesters facing felony charges as they were brutalized by police. Some water protectors also reported being denied medical care and being placed in solitary confinement after their arrests. Well, The Guardian newspaper revealed last week that Enbridge paid Minnesota police $2.4 million in reimbursements, all costs tied to the arrests and surveillance of hundreds of water protectors, including officer training, wages, overtime, meals, hotels and equipment for the local police, paid for by an international corporation.
For more, we’re joined in Ponsford, Minnesota, by Winona LaDuke, longtime Indigenous activist, who’s been organizing for years to block Enbridge Line 3. She lives and works on the White Earth Reservation in northern Minnesota, is executive director of Honor the Earth. Her piece for the Minneapolis Star Tribune is headlined “Line 3 opponents can savor this defeat.” Her latest book, To Be a Water Protector.
Winona, welcome back to Democracy Now! So, if you can talk about these latest revelations of this Canadian company paying the local police to arrest you all, and also what it means that Enbridge says Line 3 is operational?
WINONA LADUKE: [inaudible] Enbridge’s Line 3 is operational will say that they’ve been hurrying really fast because the federal court has yet to rule on whether Enbridge has any ability to move forward. There’s no federal environmental impact statement on this project, which is why we want Joe Biden to stop it. I mean, they stole 5 billion gallons of water, fracked 28 rivers out, and then they have this broken aquifer losing 100,000 gallons a day of water. They have no idea how to fix this stuff, since January. You know, it’s really horrible up here. So, you know, Enbridge has been trying to rush to get this online before the court will rule against them, because, generally, courts have not ruled in favor of pipelines. That’s the status that we have seen, you know, in the federal court ruling on the DAPL, where the federal court ordered them to close down. This is the same company. Enbridge was 28% of DAPL. And when the federal court ordered them to close down the pipe, they said no. When the state of Michigan ordered them to close down a pipe this last May, they said no. So they’re just trying to continue their egregious behavior.
It’s so tragic that, you know, on one hand, the Biden administration is like, “We are going to have Indigenous Peoples’ Day, but we’re still going to smash you in northern Minnesota and smash the rest of the country.” Same thing, you know, Klobuchar and Smith, the two Minnesota senators, shameful their lack of courage, not only for Indigenous people but for the planet, you know?
So Enbridge is trying to get that oil out. In the meantime, it’s a disaster up here. I’m still up here monitoring the line and monitoring what’s going on, because it’s crazy. And just to say, they don’t have Indigenous Peoples’ Day apparently in Becker County, because have a court date today. So, you know, no break for Indigenous people. You could still go to court. You know, it’s just insane up here.
AMY GOODMAN: So, how does your activism change now that it’s supposedly operational, the pipeline? And what exactly does it mean? For people who aren’t familiar with Line 3, talk about its course, from Canada through the United States, and why you’re so concerned about this particular pipeline.
WINONA LADUKE: OK. Well, first of all, the pipeline is 915,000 barrels a day of oil. That’s a lot of oil that’s going to move through it, if they get their way. And that oil, like, this is the last tar sands pipeline. Now, how we know this is the last tar sands pipeline is that our alma mater — remember, Amy, when we were at Harvard trying to get them to divest in South Africa? No, but they just are divesting in fossil fuels. Everybody is fleeing the tar sands. And it’s an industry that’s at its end. Like, Canada needs to quit trying to breathe life into the tar sands and breathe life into boarding schools and residential schools. They need to just stop being the criminals that they are.
You know, so, forcing them — they’re four years behind schedule, if they get to oil. And in that four years behind schedule, the industry is falling apart. There’s no new investment in tar sands infrastructure. And it’s the dirtiest oil in the world. Then add to that the fact that the company can’t even get insurance for its pipeline. Like, I’m just trying to understand what kind of fiscal responsibility exists in the state of Minnesota, that Enbridge divulged a couple of weeks ago that they can’t get insurance for their pipeline. And so, you have an accident, it’s going to be just like Bhopal and Union Carbide. These guys are going to pack up and go back to Canada. You know, I mean, it is a really horrific situation. And, you know, the impact of it is so wrong. You know, I mean, it’s not only the equivalent of 50 new coal-fired power plants, but right now our rivers are dry. They took 5 billion gallons of water from the north. Enbridge and the Walz administration are climate criminals.
And the Biden administration needs to stand up. You know, on one hand, I’m looking at Joe Biden, and I’m so grateful. Like, Bears Ears, that was the right thing to do, you know, to get back and to be the people that are supporting Indigenous people and Land Back. Let’s go, Joe. Let’s go. Let’s go, Joe. You know, 80 million acres of national parks stolen from Indian people, let’s start returning those, too, along with creating new national parks. We could just start returning land that was stolen. That would be a great step.
And then, actually, when you have Indigenous people in your administration, Joe, like Deb Haaland or maybe Jaime Pinkham at the Army Corps of Engineers, let them do their job, instead of having politics, oily politics, intervene. You know, I know that Deb Haaland does not support this pipeline. No sane person supports this pipeline. Only people who want to take oil money from Canadian multinationals support this pipeline. And I know that Jaime Pinkham, assistant in the Army Corps of Engineers, came up here, came up and visited, and saw what was going on and the disaster.
Our tribes have sued, you know, trying to stop this, sued in federal court. That federal court hearing is yet. And our tribes also have a tribal court hearing, where the federal courts have ordered Enbridge to come to our court, because we say that they’re climate criminals and they’re destroying the rights of wild rice. Actually, the state DNR has been ordered into tribal court.
You know, so, Joe, if you appoint Indian people, don’t just make them pretty Indian people that sit in your administration. Let them do their job. Indigenous thinking is what we need in the colonial administration. That’s when change happens.
AMY GOODMAN: As we wrap up, Winona, in August, you met with the U.N. special rapporteur on human rights defenders to share the police violence suffered by water protectors protesting the Line 3 construction site. And now we are learning just how much money the Canadian corporation gave to the local police to do the arrests, to do the training, etc. What happened with the U.N. rapporteur?
WINONA LADUKE: The U.N. rapporteur has asked the United States a bunch of questions and is expecting a response on what exactly the United States is planning to do to protect the human rights of Indigenous peoples, because this pipeline does not respect not only treaty rights, but, you know, when you get 900 people arrested and they’re brutalized with all kinds of — you know, I mean, it is torture. Some of what was done to these people is classified as it’s excessive force. So, the United Nations has called to task the United States on the Enbridge pipeline. And so, on Indigenous Peoples’ Day, that’s part of what we are saying, too, is it’s a time to account.
And I just want to say that this isn’t just like our problem, because the Enbridge model — like, first of all, Canadian multinationals kill people in Third World countries. That’s what they do. You know, that is known. Seventy-five percent of the world’s mining corporations are Canadian, and all through Latin America there’s human rights violations. This is no different. This is a Canadian multinational and Indigenous people. And two years ago, we told Attorney General from Minnesota Keith Ellison that this was going to be a problem. You know, we have had no action. And instead what we have is our rights continue to be violated. And, you know, I’ve got charges in three counties, more probably coming soon. I mean, this is like —
AMY GOODMAN: What do you face?
WINONA LADUKE: And this is a national problem, because the Minnesota model is being considered nationally, that corporations should finance your police. And that is — you know, in any way you look at it, that’s definitely a violation of the public trust, to have corporations financed by the police. And the Minnesota —
AMY GOODMAN: What charges do you face, Winona?
WINONA LADUKE: I’ve got trespassing, obstruction. I think I’ve got some public safety, you know, causing public safety problems because cops could have been doing something else instead of monitoring people on the pipeline. A lot of trespassing charges — Aitkin, Hubbard, Wadena County. I’ve got charges in three counties so far.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, best of luck to you today in court, Winona LaDuke, longtime indigenous activist, executive director of Honor the Earth, speaking to us from northern Minnesota.
When we come back, we look at the Russian journalist who was just awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday. Stay with us.
Shanai Matteson, a 39-year-old White settler, sat in the stuffy overflow room watching the packed Public Utility Commission meeting, along with more than a hundred others, in St. Paul, Minnesota, in June 2018. Over several hours, she listened as dozens of people—Native elders, local landowners, and young people concerned about their futures—testified against the Line 3 tar sands pipeline, urging the commission to deny the project a key permit. She listened, too, as Enbridge workers, bused in by the company, voiced their support for the pipeline.
Matteson remembers the collective dismay and anger in the room as the five-person board approved Enbridge’s permit request. She also remembers what happened next: Tania Aubid, a member of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, stood up and told the commissioners that they had just declared war on the Ojibwe people.
Outside of the conference hall, organizers held a rally. Matteson listened as Winona LaDuke, a member of the White Earth Nation and executive director of the nonprofit Honor the Earth, spoke alongside several youth interveners—teenagers who were suing to stop the pipeline in court. Listening to their words, Matteson was moved by their unwavering dedication―to the land, water, and climate, but also to upholding the treaty agreements, which were being violated by this pipeline project.
After the news conference, Matteson packed her two young children into the car. They drove for nearly three hours before reaching a part of the land where the Mississippi starts to widen into one of the nation’s most storied rivers. It was a place she knew well. Matteson’s family had lived in the area for five generations, ever since her great-great-grandfather, Amasa, settled a homestead and opened a small sawmill on 1855 Treaty land. She’d grown up in the nearby town of Palisade, Minnesota, population 150.
Here was where Enbridge planned to drill the Line 3 pipeline under the Mississippi.
Standing on the riverbank that night, Matteson made a pledge to do everything she could to uphold the treaties and to stop Line 3. “I remember that day, saying to myself ‘I am making a commitment to this fight,’ ” Matteson recalls.
Defending Treaty Rights: From the Salish Sea to Line 3
On July 25, a Lummi Nation-carved totem pole will pass through the Mississippi Headwaters, under which Enbridge plans to drill the Line 3 pipeline. It’s part of a 1,500-mile journey from the Salish Sea in the Pacific Northwest through numerous Indigenous sacred sites, including Bears Ears in the Southwest and Standing Rock in the Midwest, en route to Washington, D.C. The totem pole is intended to invite Native and non-Native people to connect with the idea of broken treaties and the ongoing efforts to honor them, especially when treaty rights come into conflict with extractive capitalism.
Putting a hand on the totem pole, as people are invited to do at each sacred site event stop, one can’t help but feel a sense of awe for the many stories, hopes, and prayers it carries—and to offer their own. The 24-foot pole, hauled on a trailer behind a pickup, bears images that tell stories of the present-day struggles faced by Indigenous communities—including the epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women, the crisis of children held in cages at the U.S.-Mexico border, and the work of language revitalization. One carving is a grandmother with seven tears, using culture to teach her granddaughter how to turn trauma into wisdom. The totem pole aims to serve as “a reminder of the promises that were made to the first peoples of this land and waters,” Lummi master carver Jewell James told The Washington Post.
These promises were made in the form of nation-to-nation treaty agreements, recognized in the U.S. Constitution as “the supreme law of the land.” For non-Native individuals residing in the U.S., treaty rights are still the legal mechanism giving people the right to live on ceded tribal land. Put another way, if settlers (like the two of us writing this piece) are not actively holding up their end of the deal, then they forfeit the right to be here.
In exchange, the U.S. government promised tribes services, such as health care, education, and housing—and in many cases, treaties reserved the right for Native people to hunt and fish within their traditional territory. Instead, the reality has been a history of genocidal massacres, forced displacement, brutal residential schools, the outlawing of language, religion, and culture, and broken treaty obligations. Only by confronting the context of the U.S.’s settler-colonial history can settlers begin to reckon with their personal identity as treaty people.
“Part of what’s so wonderful about the pole is how it invites people to learn about the treaty, and to learn about the true history of this country,” says Lummi tribal fisher and treaty advocate Ellie Kinley, co-founder of Sacred Sea, a Indigenous-led nonprofit whose mission is to defend Lummi sovereignty and treaty rights and promote Indigenous stewardship of the Salish Sea.
“Once you know the true history, you can learn from it, and become wise from it.”
“We Are All Treaty People”
On June 7, 2021, about 2,000 people attended Treaty People Gathering, a mass Line 3 protest in rural northern Minnesota. At one of two actions that happened that day, more than 1,000 people marched to a part of the Mississippi where the pipeline is slated to be drilled; at the other action, hundreds risked arrest (and more than 200 were arrested) shutting down an Enbridge work station for the day.
“We Are All Treaty People” was one of the gathering’s main rallying cries. They are words that Matteson has thought seriously about since that night at the Commission hearing.
In 2020, after two decades living and working in Minneapolis, Matteson moved her family back to Palisade. She quickly got involved with the Welcome Water Protector Center, a cultural camp supporting people standing with the Ojibwe opposing Line 3. She is now close friends with Tania Aubid, the founder of the camp and the Ojibwe woman who informed the PUC commissioners that Line 3 was an act of war upon her people. The women’s friendship has given them both the strength to do more. In early 2021, they embarked on a hunger strike together. To bring attention to the fight to stop the pipeline, Matteson went 21 days without food; Aubid went 38.
When asked why she moved with her two young children to the Welcome Water Protector Center, Matteson is clear that protecting the water and the climate were reasons, but so too was ensuring that her government upholds its side of the treaties.
“I’ve been reminded by so many Indigenous people that the treaties are not just a concern for Indigenous people,” she says, golden light falling between the trees at camp. “They were entered into by the U.S. government, and as citizens, we have a responsibility to ensure our government honors that law.”
Over the course of the 19th century, the Red Lake Nation, the White Earth Nation, and the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe signed treaties with the U.S. government—treaties that granted rights to U.S. citizens and reserved rights for tribal members. In recent years, tribal attorneys have argued that Line 3 would infringe upon those treaty-protected rights, including the right to cultivate and harvest wild rice―manoomin in the Ojibwe language―which is regarded as a sacred species and is a vital source of sustenance for local tribal members. “It’s a perpetuation of cultural genocide,” founder of Line 3 resistance group, Giniw Collective, Tara Houska told The Guardian, describing the impact Line 3 would have on manoomin.
It has been a long road for the tribal attorneys, a road made more complicated by the fact that some Native-owned construction companies and two other Ojibwe nations support the pipeline. Most recently, on June 14, the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled against the tribes, finding that Enbridge had appropriately demonstrated that there was a need for the pipeline. There are, however, reasons to believe the Tribes’ case will fare better in a case at federal court, where it is to be heard in the coming months. In 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the favor of treaty rights in two high-profile cases.
But as the case makes its way slowly through the federal court system, the fight for treaty rights is playing out on its own timeline in the woods of rural Minnesota.
Before Line 3 was anywhere near the edge of the great Mississippi, Aubid and Winona LaDuke built a waaginogaaning, a traditional Ojibwe prayer lodge, on the banks of the river, in the exact spot where Line 3 was slated to be drilled under its waters. Earlier this year, in the depths of the Minnesota winter, Enbridge workers appeared on site, nailing “No Trespassing” signs to trees.
The workers informed Aubid and LaDuke that they were trespassing on Enbridge property.
“No, you’re trespassing,” Aubid replied.
When the workers returned with law enforcement, Aubid handed the police officer a copy of the 1855 Treaty Authority letter, informing them of her legal, treaty-protected right to practice her religion there. The police and the Enbridge workers left Aubid in her prayer lodge soon after, but nobody expected Enbridge to stay away for long.
They didn’t. In July 2021, Enbridge drilled under the river, despite Aubid, Matteson, LaDuke, and others wading into the river to try and stop them.
The prayer lodge still stands in the path of the pipeline, and dozens more people have joined the Welcome Water Protector Center as the fight against the pipeline is reaching a boiling point. Since December alone, nearly 600 people have been arrested for actions related to stopping the construction of Line 3 and tens of thousands more have marched, demanded that Biden intervene, and protested the banks funding the pipeline.
Aubid is clear on what she hopes will happen next. “We’d like more people to come here,” she says. “We’d like people to help us protect the lands, protect the waters, and to do what they can to uphold their side of the treaties.”
Later, as we walk beside the languorous waters of the Mississippi, Matteson reminds us of the importance of settlers upholding the treaties. “This isn’t history,” she says. “This is happening here. It is happening now.”