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Larger Than Keystone XL: On the Enbridge “Alberta Clipper” and Solidarity with Indigenous Communities

“We can’t continue to kill our planet, it is the only one we have,” shouted a man from the middle of a crowded meeting in St. Paul, Minnesota at the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission. At issue was a large oil pipeline expansion. One that, if all its phases are completed, rivals the much more well known Keystone XL Pipeline.

Just a few hours northwest of the site of the meeting, members of the Red Lake Anishinaabe community have been occupying the land above a set of pipelines owned by the same company, Enbridge Energy, that is pushing for the expansion. In 1949, Enbridge began laying the first of four pipelines across Red Lake territory without any agreement or even acknowledgement of the Red Lake Nation. A little over two years ago, there was an oil spill on one of the lines. Not long after that, Red Lake Band Chairman Floyd Jourdain Jr. wrote Enbridge, telling them to remove the pipelines.

Members of the Enbridge Blockade and supporters at a protest in front of the Enbridge office in Bemidji, MN.

As of today, neither Enbridge, nor the state of Minnesota, has done anything to rectify this situation. Meanwhile, on July 17th, overriding not only the environmental issues behind tar sands pipelines, but also the illegal use of Red Lake land by the Enbridge Corporate, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission voted unanimously to approve the first expansion of the “Alberta Clipper.” The current rate of 450,000 bpd (barrels per day) will increase to 570,000 bpd. If the proposed future expansions are approved, the Clipper will have a carrying capacity of 880,000 bpd, or 50,000 more than the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.

March 2013 Enbridge Protest at the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission.

You might be wondering: why haven’t I heard about all this? Well, I think the phased approach is one reason. Another being that while the Keystone line has been placed before Congress and the President, the “Alberta Clipper” is being dealt with by little known bodies like the MN Public Utilities Commission. Before this winter, I, a long time activist, knew nothing of the Commission. Members of the body are appointed by sitting Governors, and are barred from directly interacting with the public on matters before the Commission. It’s hardly what you’d call “accessible,” and I think that speaks volumes to why decisions like the Clipper expansion happen on a regular basis in places across the nation.

Map of Minnesota, with the Red Lake Reservation highlighted.

Unlike all the other reservations in Minnesota, Red Lake is a “closed reservation,” meaning the tribe claims the land outright, as opposed to having had it assigned to them via treaty or U.S. government decree. Following the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act, six other Minnesota Anishinaabe communities formed the federally recognized Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, which was united through a written Constitution and elected governments. The Red Lake Band refused to join, desiring to preserve their traditional leadership approach and culture. They continue to maintain this independent spirit today.

As such, the resistance from those occupying the land above the Enbridge pipelines can be viewed as one that goes back generations. The Nizhawendaamin Indaakiminaan, or Enbridge Blockade, is a fight to protect sovereignty, and also a recognition that the corporate, settler elite are willing to destroy the entire planet in the name of profits. Furthermore, it’s a solidarity effort with all the tribal peoples in Canada facing poisoned water, rising cancer rates, and endless profiteering at the hands of Big Oil and the Harper Administration.

What about for the rest of us, who were mostly born into the settler colonial mindset that has led to so much of the exploitation and destruction prompting blockades like this? We can certainly offer financial support to the blockade, and share articles like this with our friends, family, and fellow activists. Beyond that, though, there are so many other issues to consider. When I read Aneeta Mitha’s reports from the recent tar sands healing walk in Alberta, I had to cringe. It’s kind of amazing how quickly white supremacy and the settler colonial mindset overrode what folks witnessed there. How easily some of them erased the very people that they claimed to be standing in solidarity with. And this wasn’t some isolated, “bad apple” incident. This kind of behavior is commonplace, something that should cause even the most experienced of environmental activists to pause.

We, the people born into the settler colonial mindset, who come from a variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds, but cannot claim this continent as our indigenous home, must engage not only in social action for a better world, but also in practices to retrain our minds and hearts. Our good intentions, loads of education and research aren’t nearly enough. The sooner enough of us realize this, the better. May we begin to wake up together.

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