Silence from Biden as Line 3 direct actions accelerate

The Biden administration remains silent while Indigenous women continue to battle Line 3 with their bodies.

A waaginogaaning is the traditional structure of Anishinaabe peoples. On Thursday, seven Anishinaabe water protectors carried one into a construction site for Enbridge’s Line 3 tar sands pipeline, and sat inside to pray.

They were not sitting on Enbridge property—at least, that’s not how the water protectors saw it. They considered themselves praying on land protected by the 1855 Treaty of Washington, which gave Ojibwe bands in Minnesota usufructuary rights for their resources and way of life.

But the Hubbard County Sheriff’s Office, bankrolled in part by Enbridge, did not agree with this interpretation. “You guys are all under arrest for unlawful assembly and trespass,” an officer said, according to a video posted by Giniw Collective. “Are you going to come out on your own free will?”

“This is our land,” Tara Houska, Giniw Collective’s founder, replied. “It’s Anishinaabe territory.”

He asked again. “Yes or no?”

Houska answered the same. “This is our land. It’s Anishinaabe territory. That’s the answer you get to the question that you asked.”

“Kenneled, strip searched, shackled and held overnight”

In all, Hubbard County and Beltrami County police arrested 26 people on Thursday: the seven sitting inside the waaginogaaning, and the rest standing outside with their arms locked around the structure.

The majority were female, per usual. The indigenous-led battle against Line 3 is also led overwhelmingly by women.

A member of the Kalpulli Yaocenoxtli Aztec cultural group performs a dance during a Line 3 pipeline protest in downtown St. Paul, MN. January 29, 2021. Photo by Tim Evans/NurPhoto via Getty Images.

“After we were arrested, officers took selfies with the lodge and laughed as they cut it into pieces,” Houska wrote in a Facebook post. In another, she said an officer ripped a ceremonial rattle out of her hand during the arrest.

“I asked the young man leading me away in cuffs if this is who he envisions himself to be, a person tearing away a ceremonial rattle from an Indigenous woman,” she wrote. “By the time I was loaded onto a bus with other Water Protectors, he was visibly disturbed.”

The group was eventually “kenneled, strip searched, shackled and held overnight on misdemeanor charges,” Houska wrote. They were all charged with trespassing and unlawfully assembly, according to a release from the Northern Lights Task Force, a group of Minnesota county sheriff’s departments created specifically to combat and deter pipeline protestors. Sixteen were additionally charged with obstructing the legal process, and three were charged with public nuisance.

Ultimately, construction on Line 3 was idled for about four hours. Then it resumed, as if nothing had happened.

Silence from Biden as direct actions accelerate

When Biden took office back in January, many environmental justice activists predicted “a new era of acceptable and recognition.”

They had many reasons to be hopeful. On the campaign trail, Joe Biden openly rejected the economic need for new fossil fuel projects in vulnerable communities. “The fact is, the frontline communities—it doesn’t matter what you’re paying them,” the then-Democratic nominee said in October. “It matters how you’re keeping them safe.”

Biden also issued a series of environmental justice-focused executive orders as soon as he took office, including one revoking the presidential permit for the Keystone XL pipeline. In an interview with Inside Climate News, environmental justice activist Catherine Flowers said this proved Biden was simply offering “empty campaign promises.” Mustafa Ali, the former environmental justice head of the EPA, said the new administration was “rebuilding trust with vulnerable communities, frontline communities, and with the federal family.”

All of this gave indigenous frontline communities in Minnesota hope that Biden might pause construction of the Line 3 pipeline. After all, the federal permits allowing Enbridge to burrow underneath the Mississippi River were approved in the final weeks of the Trump administration, without an independent environmental impact statement. Surely, they believed, this would warrant a reassessment.

But nearly three months later, the ground is rapidly thawing—meaning Enbridge will soon be able to finish the construction covered by federal permits. Despite this, and increased direct action resulting in arrests of indigenous women by a police force funded by a foreign oil company, the Biden administration has not said a word directly addressing Line 3.

The White House’s most recent response: “tremendous word salad”

The closest Biden has come to addressing Line 3 was last week. MSNBC ran a story about the Line 3 pipeline battle, and asked the White House for comment.

The response was, as reporter Cal Perry described it, “tremendous word salad:”

“President Biden has proposed transformative investments in infrastructure that will not only create millions of good union jobs but also help tackle the climate crisis. The Biden-Harris Administration will evaluate infrastructure proposals based on our energy needs, their ability to achieve economy wide net-zero emissions by 2050, and their ability to create good paying union jobs.”

Line 3 undoubtedly puts Biden in a complicated bind. Unlike Keystone XL, construction is already underway, meaning a cancellation would literally put a few thousand people out of a job. Though those jobs are temporary, the economic pain for individuals working them would still be very real—unlike most of the Keystone XL job loss claims, which were only theoretical.

So it’s perhaps understandable why Biden would need time to evaluate. But with the ground thawing, time is running out for political calculations.

“We’re asking this administration, just like we asked the administrations prior, to do something different and to stand with Indigenous people,” Houska said. “It’s not enough to just cancel one project while others go through. One sacred is not more than another. None of us are sacrifice zones. And it’s time for change. We said no, and we’re still saying no.”

“We are protecting your water too.”

Indigenous activists in Minnesota are hoping for action from the Biden administration. But they’re not going to sit around and wait for it.

Houska said Thursday’s direct action, though it didn’t halt construction permanently, was still “the most powerful direct act of protection I have ever been part of,” she said. “It was from the dream world, from our ancestors, from all those who have yet to step onto this earth.”

She plans to continue—and invited others to join her.

“The ripples grow larger,” she said. “We are protecting your water too.”

Watch: Houska’s video update from last week’s direct action against Line 3

Learn more: The Intercept reports that Minnesota law enforcement agencies are preparing for more protests against planned drilling under the Mississippi River.

Act: A rally in Washington, D.C. to ask Biden to Stop Line 3 on Thursday, April 1

Catch of the Day

Fishy, fishy, fishy. He’s a little squishy.

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