Pure Bliss, a ranch and outdoor event center on the White Earth Reservation, isn't easy to find. It's miles from the closest small town. Yet, the line of cars parked along the dusty gravel road in Mahnomen County seemed to stretch for miles as hundreds of people found their way to this remote spot over the weekend.
They came to demonstrate defiance against Line 3, the 340-mile replacement pipeline that Enbridge Energy is building along a new route across northern Minnesota. And some came a very long way.
"Overall, I just come here to stand in solidarity with Anishinaabe tribes and all the other water protectors," said Nick Geoghegan, a 23-year-old college student from southern Illinois.
"I've never done anything like this before,” he said. “I definitely was woefully unprepared, but I'm just kind of rolling with the punches and just doing what I can and just wanted to be here."
The three-day Treaty People Gathering was billed as the kickoff to a summer of resistance against the pipeline, which is already more than halfway completed.
Until now, COVID-19 and the cold Minnesota winter have kept Line 3 protests relatively small. But organizers of this gathering, including several Indigenous tribes, environmental groups and interfaith leaders, went big — including shuttle buses, speeches, media tours and invited celebrities.
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“I think it's really great that people are coming out to to support treaties and Indigenous sovereignty," said H. Trostle, who grew up in Outing, Minn., and now lives in St. Paul. They said the pipeline will run just a few miles from their family's home. "So trying to support the growing movement is really, really important to me right now."
On Monday, protesters plan to start the day with a prayer ceremony at the headwaters of the Mississippi. Then, they'll march to where Line 3 is expected to cross underneath the river.
Those river crossings have become a symbolic point of resistance for pipeline opponents. They worry that the project will increase the risk of oil spills or leaks that could threaten water resources, where several Ojibwe tribes retain treaty rights to hunt, fish and gather wild rice.
Enbridge argues that replacing the existing Line 3 with new, more modern technology is safer and will reduce the likelihood of spills.
Sunday afternoon, activist and Indigenous leader Winona LaDuke with Honor the Earth spoke to a group of reporters not far from one of those crossings sites, at Shell City Campground near Menahga.
Line 3 is proposed to cross the Shell River several times.
"Our people lived here for a very long time. This is our village site,” LaDuke said. “And you can see why I mean, why wouldn't you want to live here and eat shellfish off the Shell River — seems like a good place to live for a very long time."
LaDuke argues that the state's environmental review was inadequate and didn't fully consider how the project might impact the rivers and the forest ecosystem in this part of the state.
"What's happening is that this is the remaining biodiversity. This is where the wild things live," she said.
Environmental groups including Honor the Earth are still fighting Line 3 in court. Decisions on those appeals could come later this month.
In the meantime, pipeline opponents are hoping this week's protests draw national attention to a project they hope to stop before Enbridge finishes construction later this year.