Why Line 3? Why now?

We're in Minnesota reporting for the next week. Here's why.


Chris May contributed reporting.

NORTH OF PALISADE, Minnesota—Tania Aubid has not eaten solid food for 26 days, but she still has energy to yell at the cops. “No jurisdiction!!” she bellowed at two passing sheriff vehicles on Thursday from a blue beach chair on the side of the road, her feet planted firmly in snow.

Aubid is not angry because she is hungry. She’s hungry because she’s angry. An Anishinaabe water protector and member of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, Aubid grew up fishing, hunting, and harvesting wild rice on the land and water behind her. She assumed she’d be guaranteed the right to do so forever.

But now Aubid will be arrested if she steps foot on this property. Because in the eyes of the state of Minnesota, it temporarily belongs to Canadian oil company Enbridge. At some point over the next few months—perhaps weeks—the land that Aubid considers home will be home to an expanded-capacity tar sands pipeline, which environmental groups estimate will add 50 new coal plants’ worth of carbon emissions to the atmosphere every year for the next three to five decades. A hunger strike thus seemed appropriate—as did yelling at police.

“We can’t even go on our own treaty-protected land without getting stopped,” she said. “My inherent rights are being stomped on.”

Hunger strikes and yelling are nothing new when it comes to Line 3. This story has been going on for more than six years—and Aubid has been one of the main characters. The Aitkin County Sheriff’s Department is used to her roadside taunts. They know who she is. She knows who they are too.

But something is changing. Aubid no longer knows the officers she is yelling at. Though she is in Aitkin County, the sheriff’s cars read “Rice County” and “Winona County,” each located more than 200 miles south and each more than triple Aitkin County’s population. “I think they’re for us,” said Shanai Matteson, a non-native woman who grew up in Aitkin County and lives at the Water Protector Welcome Center, a camp and gathering place for Line 3 opponents located near the planned pipeline route underneath the Mississippi River.

We don’t want to speculate, though. Matteson said county sheriffs from across the state had been gathered at a local community center earlier in the day, so my research assistant and I went to check it out. Only Aitkin County vehicles were there when we arrived, but two sergeants were standing outside. We pulled up and asked why other county sheriffs were in town.

“Trainings,” one said.

What for, we asked?

“Lots of different things,” said the other.

The water protectors were worried the trainings were for them, we said.

The first responded: “If they’re not planning anything, then they shouldn’t be worried, right?”

Right, we said. Right.

Police and protestors converge for final stage of pipeline fight

We don’t know what activists fighting the Line 3 pipeline in Minnesota are planning, if they are planning anything at all. But we know most believe Enbridge hasn’t played fair. They say state and local governments approved this proposal without fully considering the consequences for the climate and environment. They note the federal government approved it without performing an environmental impact statement at all.

They also allege an unethical relationship between Enbridge and local police, as well as on local media. “There is a strangehold of industry on our societal processes,” Tara Houska, the founder of Giniw Collective, said around a campfire near one of the Enbridge construction sites this week. “I don’t think we’re going to get the answers we need comfortably.”

That’s why, since construction of the pipeline started, there have been at least 15 direct actions from activists trying to prevent construction of the pipeline. It’s also why Minnesota state legislators recently proposed a new bill that would impose harsh criminal penalties on anyone who participates in direct actions against Line 3 — 10 years in prison and $20,000 in fines.

We also know more anti-pipeline activists have coming to Minnesota to support these actions in recent weeks. “As spring has happened there’s been a lot more people helping us to protect this land and take on Big Oil,” Houska said. That has coincided with reports that Minnesota county sheriffs departments have indeed teamed up to launch a task force to quell potential unrest—and that they modeled their case studies after Standing Rock.

As more ice melts in Minnesota, and the ground conditions become appropriate, Enbridge will be able to complete more of the project—including, critically, the sections that cross the Mississippi River. The company is trying to move as fast as it can on those sections in particular, because President Biden could pull those permits, just as he did on Keystone XL.

That’s why we are here in Minnesota now, and why we’ll be covering this story for the next few weeks. We’ll be reporting from all sorts of angles — from Enbridge’s ad presence in local media, to its relationship with local police departments, to the increase in missing and murdered indigenous women. We’ll be looking at how the Line 3 pipeline fits in with the Biden administration’s climate priorities. And we might even talk to Jane Fonda. Who knows.

All of our reporting from this trip will be free to read. But paid subscribers to the newsletter will get some extra, more personal dispatches from Chris and I.

Paid subscribers also get the benefit of knowing they’re the ones making this on-the-ground, independent coverage possible—and that we appreciate you so, so much.

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Stay hydrated, eat plants, break a sweat, and have a great day!