DHS helicopter sand-blasts indigenous pipeline protestors

Line 3 protesters “are going to Standing Rock this place,” actress Jane Fonda said.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s core mission is “to secure the nation from the many threats we face,” according to the agency’s website. “Our duties are wide-ranging, and our goal is clear—keeping America safe.”

One of the ways DHS tried to keep America safe yesterday was by sand-blasting indigenous Americans attempting to defend their treaty-protected land from a Canadian oil company’s tar sands pipeline project, according to a video posted to Twitter by Minnesota Public Radio photojournalist Evan Frost.

In the video, the DHS helicopter appears to be trying to clear out some of the 500-plus indigenous people and allies who shut down an active pump station for Enbridge’s new Line 3 pipeline project yesterday. Specifically, it appears to be targeting the protesters who chained themselves to Enbridge’s construction equipment.

If the tactic sounds familiar, you may be thinking of the Washington, D.C. protests over racial injustice last summer after George Floyd’s murder by a Minneapolis police officer. During those protests, D.C. National Guard helicopters controversially attempted the same thing—“a decision that prompted intense criticism, multiple investigations, and disciplinary action against a number of the individuals involved,” the automobile news site The Drive pointed out yesterday.

If that tactic doesn’t sound familiar, you may be thinking of the violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, where this did not happen. (Helicopter blasting, it appears, is reserved only for people opposed to racial injustices in Minnesota).

The tactic was ultimately unsuccessful. Minnesota police wound up cutting protestors from the equipment using tools likely paid for by Enbridge. Minnesota police will also likely bill Enbridge for all the time they spent arresting people yesterday, due to the state’s ethically dubious financial agreement with the Canadian company.

More than 100 people were arrested, according to Giniw Collective, the indigenous-led group behind the action. The group is also collecting donations for a rapid-response bail fund.

Not exactly the Biden administration attention protesters wanted

Monday’s massive direct action at the Line 3 pump station wasn’t the only protest in Minnesota yesterday against the controversial tar sands pipeline, which environmental groups estimate would also add 50 new coal plants’ worth of carbon emissions to the atmosphere every year for the next three to five decades if completed.

More than 1,000 people (including high-profile climate activists Jane Fonda and Bill McKibben) also marched to the headwaters of the Mississippi River—the place where the long, mighty river begins, and near where Enbridge has a federal permit to bore under the river to build the new tar sands pipeline.

That permit was granted in the final days of the Trump administration, and activists say a proper environmental review was not conducted. They say Biden has the authority to suspend or revoke the permit—and should, considering his pledges to aggressively tackle climate change and secure tribal sovereignty.

But Biden has not yet weighed in on Line 3, despite months of pressure. That’s why the actions happened yesterday: to get Biden’s attention.

The only thing they got from his administration, however, was dust from one its helicopters. A White House spokesperson did not return HEATED’s request for comment.

The silence means we can expect the protests to intensify. As Fonda said, Line 3 activists “are going to Standing Rock this place.”

One of the many protesters at a pump station run by Canadian oil company Enbridge in Northern Minnesota on Monday, part of what activists called “Minnesota’s largest ever anti-pipeline mobilization.” Source: Giniw Collective.

You may remember that HEATED traveled to Minnesota to report on Line 3 nearly three months ago. From that trip, we produced three weeks of coverage, including (but not limited to) these stories:

If you didn’t follow that coverage, though, you might not know what it’s really like to be up there. So, to learn more about what it was like at yesterday’s march to the Mississippi Headwaters, I called up Jami Gaither, a former steelworker and water protector whose property in Alida, Minnesota abuts the Line 3 construction route.

Back in March, Jami and her husband Dan were kind enough to welcome HEATED into to their home to talk about their years-long fight against Line 3. What follows is Jami’s recounting of her experience at the march yesterday as she told it to me, plus a snippet of our conversation from a few months ago, which is contained in the block-quote.

Her words have been lightly edited and arranged for clarity. I hope you enjoy them.

“I realized Enbridge isn’t all that powerful. I realized, we can win.”

Left: Jami Gaither talks about living next to Line 3 construction on her porch in March 2021. Right: Dan Gaither stands on the edge of their property and points to an Enbridge work site in the distance. Photos: Emily Atkin

—By Jami Gaither, as told to Emily Atkin

I really thought I’d be one of the first people at the Mississippi River Valley action today, but there was such an overwhelming response that I got one of the last spots in the parking lot.

It was packed. They ended up having a ton more people show up than they expected. There were 27 cars packed in that tiny little lot, and over 30 cars lined up on County Road 22. I’d say there were there were over 200 cars there today at different points.

What I did was make sure people knew where to go. I’d drive up and down the road taking people back and forth to where the march was. I also talked with the Clearwater County sheriff—well, it turned out to be his deputy. But he was turning traffic around once the march got going, because the number of people was too much to have any traffic through the valley.

I talked to so many people today about, well, you know. All the shit I talked to you about a few months ago:

This construction is obviously not just for one pipeline. They are clearing such a massive amount of trees, that it’s clear they are preparing for a wider corridor, to make sure they can build more oil infrastructure in the future.

They also want that corridor to cross the Mississippi River twice. It’s like, hello—this is everybody’s drinking water. Water doesn’t flow into Minnesota, it flows out. And they’re going to frac-out. It’s inevitable, given their record.

I often wonder, how much longer can we keep up this charade, this idea we can keep doing what we’re doing indefinitely? It’s been, what, 886 days since the IPCC 1.5 degree report was released? And here we are—we still haven’t done barely anything to get serious about stopping fossil fuel infrastructure. We’re building a motherfucking tar sands pipeline at the end of the world.

There’s a part of me that thinks this is just all a waste of time. Like, c’mon Jami, why don’t you just sit around and crochet and read books and be an old white lady who enjoys her retirement like you thought you were going to get to do?

But I feel like, how do you know this land, and know these trees, and know these turkeys who come in your yard every day—how do you know this place and not do everything you possibly can to try and save it?

It was a great day of information sharing. I heard a lot of people speak about how eye-opening it was to them. They were like, “I didn’t understand what it meant to be a treaty person until this.”

There was this one woman named Melissa. A young kid, worked on Relay For Our Water. She felt so empowered. She said, “Enbridge made us feel small and powerless. But today, to go out on that road, to stand there on that property—I realized Enbridge isn’t all that powerful. I realized, we can win.”

I think there are about 70+ people camping at the river tonight. The sheriff left at about 6:45 p.m. or so. He’s hoping they will de-camp tomorrow. I hear they are planning to stay indefinitely. 

It’s raining here now. Much needed. Feels like a blessing. And an omen.

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Catch of the Day

Fish mastered the Monday crossword in record time, and he would like a treat for his accomplishments, please.

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