For several years now, environmental and tribal groups battling the Line 3 oil pipeline have fought the project in front of state regulators, in the courts and on the streets.
They've dotted the route with resistance camps, and they've chained themselves to branches of banks with ties to the project.
Their opposition so far hasn't stopped the pipeline. Enbridge Energy says it is more than halfway through building the $4 billion project across northern Minnesota.
So now activists are taking their protest to the next level.
On Monday morning, hundreds of people trespassed onto the Two Inlets pump station site a few miles south of Itasca State Park to protest the ongoing construction of the new pipeline, which will replace a line that's been carrying Canadian tar sands oil across northern Minnesota since the 1960s.
Dozens locked themselves to bulldozers, excavators and other construction equipment using devices known as sleeping dragons, so law enforcement wouldn't be able to easily cut them free.
“To see people engaging in personal risk like this, and to see so many young people and folks of all walks of life, it's so beautiful and powerful,” said Tara Houska, founder of the Giniw Collective, one of dozens of groups that organized the week’s actions. “It's an incredible moment.”
The Indigenous-led, multiday event, called the Treaty People Gathering, began over the weekend and is expected to reach into the week, with prayer, marches and direct action.
Organizers say they hope to draw attention to the fight against the pipeline that they argue will exacerbate climate change and threaten the waters of treaty lands in northern Minnesota.
Their goal is to push the Biden administration to stop the Line 3 project, as it did the Keystone XL pipeline.
“Without direct action, and people engaging in personal risk,” Houska said, “the pressure just isn't there.”
Enbridge is replacing its current Line 3 oil pipeline, which is corroding and requires extensive maintenance, with a new pipe along a different route across northern Minnesota that will be able to carry about twice as much oil as the current line.
One of the activists, a young woman who didn't want to give her name because she was risking arrest, lay flat on her back, locked together with another person to a hydraulic construction lift.
This type of protest has several goals, she said.
"One is to to shut it down to shut down work, which we've successfully done,” the woman said, “and to cost Enbridge time and money and to raise a lot of awareness about the urgency of stopping this pipeline and get as much attention drawn to it as we can."
But company spokesperson Juli Kellner said stopping work at one pump station for a day won’t have a huge impact on the overall project.
"We have five active construction zones with multiple construction sites in each zone, and having one shut down is not necessarily impactful in the large view of the project,” Kellner said. “And to date, protests have had very little impact on our schedule. We're still on track to be done and in service in the fourth quarter of this year."
The woman chained to the hydraulic lift said she was motivated to join the protests as a way to stand in support of Indigenous people who are fighting the pipeline.
Line 3 opponents argue that, in addition to exacerbating climate change and putting nearby waters at risk, the project threatens tribal members' rights to hunt, fish and gather wild rice on land outside reservation borders — as outlined in several treaties with the U.S. government.
"I am here as someone who's lived in Minnesota for the past several years and feels a duty to be here and stand up for this land and the people, the Indigenous relatives to whom it belongs, to protect our water,” the woman said. “It really it feels like a duty and an honor to be a really small part of this fight."
Enbridge argues that many Native American people also support the project. The company says about 500 Native people have worked on Line 3 since construction began.
Paul Eberth, director of tribal engagement for Enbridge, said 44 workers left the pump station when protesters arrived Monday morning. Ten of those workers, he said, were employees of Gordon Construction, a company based on the White Earth Reservation.
As the day wore on — and as the temperature approached 90 degrees — activists set up tents on the pump station grounds, preparing to spend the night. They drove in ATVs loaded with bottled water and Gatorade.
But late in the afternoon, officers from several northern Minnesota sheriffs’ departments arrived and set up a perimeter around the pump station. Activists faced them in a line, chanting.
Inside the fence, officers and rescue workers began to slowly cut people free from equipment, and take them into custody. Through the fence, some protesters started to sing as the two young women were cut free from the hydraulic lift.
As of early Tuesday morning, the Northern Lights Task Force — the law enforcement collaborative created to address pipeline protests — had not released any details about the arrests.
As Enbridge ramps up construction, the fight to stop Line 3 continues on other fronts. A major decision is expected from the Minnesota Court of Appeals in the next two weeks that could stop work on the project.
Meanwhile, more than 100 protesters camped overnight in the path of the pipeline near the Mississippi headwaters. They plan to continue to fight the pipeline on the ground, for as long as necessary.
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