– that governments “fully respect, protect and uphold Indigenous peoples’ land and forest rights, respect collective customary land and forest use by local communities, to ensure protection of that land in accordance with their wishes” as the primary means of protecting the world’s biodiversity
– “Governments and conservation organisations must acknowledge the huge toll that strictly protected conservation areas have taken on the lands, livelihoods and rights of many communities worldwide; they must make concrete plans for reparations of past wrongs, including through transferring control back to the historical and local guardians”
– “High income countries… must cease funding conservation programmes which destroy local people and livelihoods, including by failures of FPIC, irrespective of whether this is intentional or not.”
The manifesto calls for “a conservation model that fights against the real causes of environmental destruction and is prepared to tackle those most responsible: overconsumption and exploitation of resources led by the Global North and its corporations.”
The demand for a radical change to the current model of conservation has grown louder in recent months. The UN’s Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment released a strongly-worded policy brief in August, arguing that achieving environmental goals “demands a dramatic departure from ‘conservation as usual’.” His brief calls instead for a radically different, rights-based approach.
Many organizations and institutions, however, claim to endorse these calls while simultaneously promoting aggressive “fortress conservation” projects. The European Commission, for example, talks in its Biodiversity Strategy of “strengthen[ing] the links between biodiversity protection and human rights … and the role of indigenous peoples and local communities” – but continues to fund conservation projects in Africa that exclude them.
Likewise, 150 NGOs recently published an open letter calling on world leaders to put human rights at the centre of environmental policy – but the group included WWF, whose “secret war” of funding “vicious paramilitary forces” has been the subject of multiple media exposés and human rights investigations.
Fiore Longo, head of Survival’s Decolonize Conservation campaign, said today: “Most governments and NGOs these days are good at producing nice-sounding rhetoric about respecting Indigenous rights. But the same people are promoting a massive drive to create new Protected Areas on Indigenous lands as part of the 30×30 plan that constitutes the biggest land grab in world history.
“We can see the same pretence in calls for Nature-Based Solutions to climate change. These are really just a new spin on what used to be called carbon offsets. They’ll allow Indigenous lands to be bought and sold, in order to permit the world’s most polluting companies to carry on polluting.
“Only the full recognition of Indigenous peoples’ land ownership rights will prevent them from continuing to be the sacrificial victims of fortress conservation and Nature-Based Solutions. It’s also a key step in addressing the biodiversity and climate change crises.”
‘Our Land, Our Nature’. The conservation industry has a dark side rooted in racism and colonialism that destroys nature and people.
Editor’s note: Colonialism has not ended. It is in full force. It is what civilization does. For this to end, governments must give the Land Back. All BLM, Forests and Park land should be returned to the sovereign Nations it was stolen from. Turtle Island is Treaty Land, ceded or unceded. Treaties are the Supreme Law of the Land and must be honored. Australia just returned more than 395,000 acres of land to the Eastern Kuku Yalanji people. It included the Daintree National Park which is believed to be the oldest living rainforest in the world. Protections for the Bears Ear National Monument are being reinstated and management of the 1.3 million acres will be placed back into indigenous management. Rightful Lands, Rightful Hands!
As Colorado and other states eliminate Columbus Day as a holiday, it might seem as if our society has begun to repudiate the legacy of a slave trader/explorer who fed Spain’s lust for gold by trafficking in, and annihilating, native peoples. In truth, we continue to celebrate it.
We celebrate it every time the desires of the dominant culture override the concerns of native peoples about destruction of their homelands and sacred sites. Despite relentless legal and political resistance from affected tribes, Canadian oil that is produced by converting forests to sand pits recently began flowing through the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline.
The U.S. Senate should adopt a resolution endorsing the UN Declaration and explicitly repudiate the white supremacy of Johnson v. McIntosh. Only then will Columbus’s legacy be in doubt.
Earlier this year, a federal court ordered the federal government to reassess the environmental impacts of the Dakota Access Pipeline, yet the Biden administration is allowing it to continue to operate.
In the coming days, it is likely that, over the objections of native people, including the Fort McDermitt Paiute-Shoshone Tribe and Atsa Koodakuh Wyh Nuwu/People of Red Mountain, backhoes will claw into Thacker Pass, Nevada, a relatively pristine desert landscape and site of a U.S. Cavalry massacre of Paiutes. Thacker Pass contains the largest lithium reserves in the United States. The mine will destroy nearly 5,700 acres to fuel the “green energy” revolution touted by advocates of the Green New Deal.
Affected tribes and native activists asked U.S. District Court Judge Miranda Du to stop the excavation, which she declined to do. The federal-agency defendants “do not dispute that the Tribes consider the entire Thacker Pass area sacred,” Judge Du stated. Regardless, she noted that the tribes lack the “right to prevent all digging in the entire Project area” and instead are entitled only to consultation with U.S. officials.
What Columbus achieved through bloodshed and savagery is now accomplished with paper weapons wielded in a federal court.
Judge Du’s blunt statement about the toothless legal recourse available to tribes also reveals the white supremacy embedded in federal law. In 1823, in Johnson v. McIntosh, Justice John Marshall cited the “superior genius” of Europe as justification for federal dominance over native nations. Marshall acknowledged how “extravagant the pretension of converting the discovery of an inhabited country into conquest may appear.” Still, “if the principle has been asserted in the first instance, and afterwards sustained; if a country has been acquired and held under it; if the property of the great mass of the community originates in it, it becomes the law of the land and cannot be questioned.”
Nearly 200 years after Marshall invoked the “Doctrine of Discovery,” the fundamental relationship between native nations and the U.S. government is unchanged. Despite occasional pledges from presidents to honor native rights, those promises are mostly gimmicks designed to distract from the day in, day out policy choices that undermine native rights through federal approval of projects like the Thacker Pass lithium mine and the Dakota Access and Enbridge pipelines.
The Obama administration endorsed the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which requires states to obtain “free, prior and informed consent” before taking actions that affect native peoples, yet that endorsement has had no effect on approval of massive projects so destructive to native lands. For this reason, the Biden administration should immediately enforce those protections in federal permitting decisions. The U.S. Senate should adopt a resolution endorsing the UN Declaration and explicitly repudiate the white supremacy of Johnson v. McIntosh. Only then will Columbus’s legacy be in doubt.
Karen Breslin is an attorney and teaches political science at Metropolitan State University of Denver.
Pop singer Britney Spears’ quest to end the conservatorship that handed control over her finances and health care to her father demonstrates the double-edged sword of putting people under the legal care and control of another person.
A judge may at times deem it necessary to appoint a guardian or conservator to protect a vulnerable person from abuse and trickery by others, or to protect them from poor decision-making regarding their own health and safety. But when put into the hands of self-serving or otherwise unscrupulous conservators, however, it can lead to exploitation and abuse.
Celebrities like Spears may be particularly susceptible to exploitation due to their capacity for generating wealth, but they are far from the only people at risk. As a lawyer with decades of experience representing poor and marginalized people and a scholar of tribal and federal Indian law, I can attest to the way systemic inequalities within local legal practices may exacerbate these potentially exploitative situations, especially with respect to women and people of color.
Perhaps nowhere has the impact been so grave than with respect to Native Americans, who were put into a status of guardianship due to a system of federal and local policies developed in the early 1900s purportedly aimed at protecting Native Americans receiving allotted land from the government. Members of the Five Civilized Tribes of Oklahoma – Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, and Seminole nations – were particularly impacted by these practices due to the discovery of oil and gas under their lands.
Swindled by ‘friendly white lawyers’
A conservatorship, or a related designation called a guardianship, takes away decision-making autonomy from a person, called a “ward.” Although the conservator is supposed to act in the interest of the ward, the system can be open to exploitation especially when vast sums of money are involved.
By that time, federal policy had forced the removal of the Five Civilized Tribes from eastern and southern locations in the United States to what is presently Oklahoma. Subsequent federal policy converted large tracts of tribally held land into individual allotments that could be transferred or sold without federal oversight – a move that fractured communal land. Land deemed to be “surplus to Indian needs” was sold off to white settlers or businesses, and Native allotment holders could likewise sell their plots after a 25-year trust period ended or otherwise have them taken through tax assessments and other administrative actions. Through this process Indian land holdings diminished from “138 million acres in 1887 to 48 million acres by 1934 when allotment ended,” according to the Indian Land Tenure Foundation.
Lawyers and conservators stole lands and funds before death as well, by getting themselves appointed as guardians and conservators with full authority to spend their wards’ money or lease and sell their land.
Congress created the initial conditions for this widespread graft and abuse through the Act of May 27, 1908. That Act transferred jurisdiction over land, persons and property of Indian “minors and incompetents” from the Interior Department, to local county probate courts in Oklahoma. Related legislation also enabled the the Interior Department to put land in or out of trust protection based on its assessment of the competency of Native American allottees and their heirs.
Unfettered by federal supervisory authority, local probate courts and attorneys seized the opportunity to use guardianships to steal Native Americans estates and lands. As described in 1924 by Zitkála-Šá, a prominent Native American activist commissioned by the Secretary of Interior to study the issue, “When oil is ‘struck’ on an Indian’s property, it is usually considered prima facie evidence that he is incompetent, and in the appointment of a guardian for him, his wishes in the matter are rarely considered.”
The county courts generally declared Native Americans incompetent to handle more than a very limited sum of money without any finding of mental incapacity. Zitkála-Šá’s report and Congressional testimony documented numerous examples of abuse. Breaches of trust were documented in which attorneys or others appointed conservators took money or lands from Nation members for their own businesses, personal expenses or investments. Others schemed with friends and business associates to deprive “wards.”
‘Plums to be distributed’
One such woman in Zitkála-Šá’s report was Munnie Bear, a “young, shrewd full-blood Creek woman … [who] ran a farm which she inherited from her aunt, her own allotment being leased.” Munnie saved enough money to buy a Ford truck and livestock for her farm, with savings remaining in a bank account. Once oil was discovered, however, the court appointed a guardian, who appointed a co-guardian and retained a lawyer, each of whom deducted monthly fees that depleted Bear’s funds. During the period of her guardianship, she was unable to spend any money or make any decisions about her farm or livestock, nor did she control her bank investment.
Zitkála-Šá’s report displays the extent of this practice:
“Many of the county courts are influenced by political considerations, and … Indian guardianships are the plums to be distributed to the faithful friends of the judges as a reward for their support at the polls. The principal business of these county courts is handling Indian estates. The judges are elected for a two-year term. That ‘extraordinary services’ in connection with the Indian estates are well paid for; one attorney, by order of the court, received $35,000 from a ward’s estate, and never appeared in court.”
Wards were often kept below subsistence levels by their conservators while their funds and lands were depleted by the charging of excessive guardian and attorneys’ fees and administrative costs, along with actual abuse through graft, negligence and deception.
Reports like that of Zitkála-Šá’s resulted in Congress enacting the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934. This put the Indian land that had not fallen into non-Indian hands during the federal policy of allotting plots back into tribal ownership and secured it in the trust of the United States. It also ended the potential for theft through guardianship.
But the lands and funds lost as a result of guardianships were not restored nor did descendants of those swindled ever enjoy the benefit of their relatives’ lands and monies either.
There are four things you should know,” says David Fuertes to the youths he mentors. “You should know your origins, because your ancestors have paved the way. You should know your values and connect in those values, because that’s going to drive you to make decisions. You should know your purpose, because that will show the ‘why’ of what you’re doing. And you should envision the ultimate for yourself and your lāhui [or ‘people’].”
Fuertes is the executive director of Kahua Pa’a Mua, an education-focused agriculture nonprofit in North Kohala, on the bucolic northern tip of Hawai‘i Island (also known as the Big Island). It’s one of many organizations that have popped up in the past decade in pursuit of food security and resilience in the Aloha State.
Some of these organizations were founded in the wake of legislation introduced in 2012 that acknowledged that Hawai‘i had become “dangerously dependent” on imported food. At the time, 92% of Hawai‘i’s food was being imported, which meant that in the event of a natural disaster or global catastrophe, the islands would have only seven days to survive.
On the heels of the Food, Energy, and Conservation Act, a $288 billion five-year agriculture policy bill passed by Congress amid the Great Recession, Hawai‘i’s bill called for the expansion of agriculture in order to cut down on expenditures, create more jobs, and keep money within local economies.
However, before the state legislation was even introduced, North Kohala—an area zoned mainly for agriculture—already had a plan to reach 50% food self-sufficiency by 2020. The community has yet to chart their progress, but Kahua Pa’a Mua is one of the smaller nonprofits to help make big steps toward that goal.
Caring for the Community
Founded in 2010 by Fuertes and his wife, Carol, Kahua Pa’a Mua operates on the premise that true, lasting sustainability comes not only from partnering with the land, but from empowering community members to take care of one another.
With several years of business management experience, Carol Fuertes serves as the nonprofit’s secretary and treasurer. David Fuertes brought the vision, along with 30-plus years of teaching agriculture in the Hawai‘i Department of Education, and experience in youth mentorship after he retired. Both wanted to focus their work on area youth when they created the organization—initially an expansion of a family-oriented taro cooperative.
“If you want food for a year, plant taro. [If] you want food for more than a year, plant a tree. But if you want to feed the community for a lifetime, invest in our children,” says David Fuertes, who comes from a long line of homesteaders and community builders. He moved to Kohala in 1975, but grew up in Kauai, where his father, who emigrated from the Philippines, worked on a sugar cane plantation and helped organize fellow laborers to strike for better work conditions and pay.
Kahua Pa’a Mua now hosts a mentorship program that teaches students from ages 13 to 18 about animal husbandry and crop production to grow and distribute food throughout the community. The program gets its name from Ho’okahua Ai, which means, “to build a foundation of nutrition, sustenance, communication, and sharing.”
While other youth initiatives throughout the islands use organic farming, at Kahua Pa’a Mua, the students employ Korean Natural Farming methods that fertilize soil with indigenous micro-organisms (IMOs)—bacteria, fungi, nematodes, protozoa—from one’s surroundings rather than inorganic fertilizers. Invented in Korea in the mid-1960s by Cho Han-kyu (also known as “Master Cho”), these methods have become widely used in Hawai‘i, but have yet to gain traction on the U.S. mainland. Besides producing high yield crops, these techniques help produce healthy soil and sequester carbon, which lessens greenhouse gas emissions.
“It’s pretty much growing nature by using nature,” says Jamiel Ventura, 21, who started off in Kahua Pa’a Mua’s youth mentorship program and has since returned as a farm assistant through the Honolulu-based nonprofit KUPU, which facilitates youth-focused environmental programs. Ventura first became interested in agriculture in middle school through a video game called Viva Piñata, where players plant crops in garden plots. It was Fuertes’ teaching of Korean Natural Farming that fully ignited Ventura’s passion.
But even Fuertes only began using these techniques in 2008, after being invited to the University of Hawai‘i to see Master Cho give a clinic. His motivation to teach this cleaner method of farming came when his son died of cancer.
Before the Fuertes’ son died, at age 36, doctors found trace amounts of 2,4,5-T (Trichlorophenoxyacetic acid) in his body, one ingredient in an herbicide once used on their family farm. The acid was also a component of Agent Orange, an herbicide and defoliant used as part of chemical warfare in the Vietnam War. Banned by the EPA in 1979, 2,4,5-T was used during the plantation era, and still lingered in the community for some time after. According to David Fuertes, if you knew who to ask, you could still get it.
“Being born and raised on a sugar plantation, chemical usage was a way of life,” he says, adding, “We irresponsibly used it to get the job done without thinking of consequences.”
Now David Fuertes works to make sure the health of crops extends to the health of the people as well as the conservation and preservation of the environment.
“The idea is if you take care of the land, the land takes care of you,” he says.
Feeding One Another
In the mid-18th century, North Kohala was home to 40,000 people who used systems of subsistence they developed to protect and restore both the land and the ocean. During that time, the concept of private property ownership didn’t exist. After Capt. James Cook’s arrival on the island in 1778, however, foreign investors’ interest in sugar mounted, eventually upending Hawaiians’ way of life. In the 19th century, Kohala was home to six of the state’s dozens of sugar cane plantations, but by the 1990s, these exploitative businesses had dried up as sugar production moved to other countries.
Today Kohala has roughly 6,500 residents, most of whom work in the ailing tourism industry. The land that is zoned for agriculture has been bought up mostly by the wealthy, many of whom don’t use their property as farmland, making it largely inaccessible to the community to grow crops. This blocks Kohala from being the food basket it once was and could be again.
After working as a land custodian for a mainland developer, David Fuertes got lucky and was given 5 acres. That land, which is part of the nonprofit’s learning lab, contains their brand new certified imu, a traditional underground oven. They hope eventually, with enough funding, the lab will have a processing plant that can be used to cook food for schools and the community.
The other 5 acres Fuertes acquired came through a landowner Fuertes knew through Future Farmers of America. It had been sitting idle for 20 years before the owner asked whether Fuertes could use it. In addition to the youth mentorship program, this land houses the nonprofit’s Ohana Agriculture Resilience initiative. Launched in 2019 with the hope of creating a revolution in backyard food sustainability, it provides 10 families with two 100-foot crop rows on their farm for free. Over the course of a year, families learn various aspects of farming and animal husbandry, and can grow whatever they please.
Once they graduate from the program, the families have a choice of equipment to continue their own operations at home. Options include a mobile pen called a chicken tractor to raise chickens, an odorless pigpen that composts manure and processes toxins under the pig’s feet, or an aquaponics tank to grow fish and soil-less produce.
“I got so much out of the program, and we established a network with all the other families,” says David Gibbs, who, along with his wife, Leah, and two children, were part of the initiative’s first Ohana Agriculture Resilience cohort. The Gibbs had recently moved from Utah so their children could grow up in a place knowing where their food came from. Now, the Gibbs’ yard has a garden filled with a variety of fruits and vegetables as well as chickens, whose eggs they share with the community.
One reason the programs are so successful is because of David Fuertes’ warmth. “He always makes us feel welcome,” says Joël Tan, who is part of the current cohort with his husband. Tan is the social impact director for a local organization called 1HeartHub. He found Kahua Pa’a Mua while conducting a needs assessment in the area. Tan and his husband are now growing napa cabbage, uala, and utong, and after the program, they hope to start a garden in their half-acre backyard. “At the end of the day, it’s grace in this time of quarantine,” Tan says.
Brandon McCarthy, who is also part of the initiative with his wife and children, says their wish is to grow some produce for local food drives. “I think the spirit of aloha is a real and tangible thing,” he says, “and it’s programs like these that make me feel it the most.”
David Fuertes says in Hawaiian culture that alo means many things, like “love,” “aina” [or “land”], “the universe,” and that ha means “breath.” So when you say aloha to someone, you’re actually giving your breath. “It’s more than just a greeting,” he says. “It’s giving part of your life.”
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.”