In April, I went to MN to help stop the Line 3 pipeline being built by the Canadian company Enbridge. The pipeline would bring tar sands from Alberta Canada to the Great Lakes port in Superior WI. There has been a pipeline for about 50 years, part of which is supposed to be “replaced”. In fact, it has a whole new route in MN which allows Enbridge to abandon and not clean up the old corroding pipeline and put in a larger pipe which will pump even more oil and use even more energy. This is despite the fact that there have been numerous Enbridge pipeline spills of crude oil including the biggest inland oil spill in US history which occurred in Grand Rapids, MN. The pipeline construction causes irreparable harm to sensitive ecosystems and creates enormous risks of spills and contamination. Tar sands is the dirtiest form of fossil fuels that exists. To mine it, the forests and land of Alberta are transformed to a moonscape. The sticky oily sand is diluted with water to pump it and spills are impossible to clean up. Unlike the horrible and inadequately cleaned spills from crude oil, there is no known technology on how to clean up tar sands spills. The proposed pipeline route crosses rivers 22 times, cuts through more than 200 bodies of water and 800 wetlands. It would also cross and potentially contaminate the treaty protected wild rice lakes of the Anishinabe; wild rice is subsistence as well as having tremendous cultural and spiritual importance. The pipeline cuts across multiple Sovereign Indigenous nations in further violation of treaty rights. The Mississippi river basin drains about 40% of the continental US, a lot of our water to get polluted. And, the Great Lakes have about 20% of the freshwater on the planet. How can we allow this type of pollution of all of our water, all of our future generations’ water, and the water of all the innocent and beautiful nonhuman beings? And, if the spills and water damage weren’t enough, the pipeline is estimated to create greenhouse gases equivalent to 50 coal fired plants.
Knowing of the horrors associated with the pipeline, I decided to go to MN to “throw my body on the gears of the machine” doing so much to damage future life on this planet. (Not that I had the illusion my one body would save the world, but still felt I had to try to do something.) What I didn’t know was how incredibly beautiful the land would be. I fell in love with the forests, frogs, rivers, and birds. There were bald eagles, deer, bear, beaver, porcupines and more. Some days I would walk by the river watching the spring flowers poking up out of the snow and sob at how all of this could be sacrificed for greed and the dying gasps of the fossil fuel industry. How can this become a sacrifice zone for more billionaire’s wealth? How can we allow our entire planet to be sacrificed so that our coming generations will not be able to survive?
In Minnesota I went to two very moving gatherings for MMIW, Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, children, 2-Spirit people. Every person I talked to knew multiple people who were murdered or missing: children, sisters, mothers, cousins, friends. I heard stories and saw photos of the missing ones. At one gathering a teepee was painted and erected; relatives of the murdered and missing dipped their hand in paint and made an imprint on the teepee. People then wrote the names and dates of the loss of their loved ones. Survivors who got away told their stories as well. The role of the pipeline “man camps” have exacerbated this problem as well as increasing domestic violence. The Enbridge contract with the state of Minnesota stipulated a fund to help cover such “associated costs.” Indigenous women have had to form their own teams to go out and look for women who are missing as police ignore the reports.
I was so sad to have to return home but I needed to be near my 90 year old mother who lives in the northern CA area which is burning down with climate chaos. Last year I helped her evacuate to my home in Oakland twice. I also knew that the West Berkeley Shellmound, sacred site of the Ohlone people of the East Bay, had lost an appeal to developers who want to put a mega building on top of it. Having been part of the struggle to save the site for many years, I wanted to come home to organize and check in with our team. And I had been helping to plan an event for the Nakba on May 15, commemorating the forced removal and massacres of Palestinians in 1948. We had no way of knowing the new terrible catastrophe the Israelis would create in Palestine to give the event new urgency and bringing 10,000 people out into the streets. I was honored to support the Palestinian community in creating a beautiful street mural.
After less than a week home, I was still sad and in tears about the next phase of the struggle in MN. I wanted to go back. In MN, there are 22 pipeline river crossings. Enbridge is going to attempt to drill starting mid-June. (Enbridge had to wait for the river to unfreeze and the mud to dry up to start work.) There are massive drills used to go under rivers. Only 5 such drills exist in the entire US. The rest of the pipeline has mostly been laid, marked by massive swaths of clear cuts. There have been numerous legal challenges to the pipeline. The Biden administration has been asked, begged and demanded to stop the pipeline. Right now, it is only the people who are willing to slow or stop the drilling that are going to stop the pipeline. If Enbridge cannot complete the crossings before the winter freeze, we will have more time for all the other strategies to work. I think of the Indigenous people of Turtle Island who continue to struggle and survive despite centuries of genocide, attacks, theft, and destruction of their land, culture, and way of life. I think of the Palestinians resisting against all the might of the Israeli terror. Each of us can take a stand against insurmountable odds on the off chance we might make a difference.
I talked with my folks and decided I could go back to MN for another month. There is a national call out by the Indigenous organizers inviting folks to come to MN and help Stop Line3. If you come, you must be willing to work under Indigenous leadership, mainly Indigenous women. You can get more information and give $ directly to the organizing at Honor the Earth or Stopline3.org
White supremacy rears its head on our trip
I traveled to MN with 13 other people in a multiracial group that was organized by a “progressive” nonprofit working on racism and reparative justice. Sadly, and not surprisingly, the representatives of the group who traveled with us were not able to live up to the goals of the organization. When BIPOC folks challenged the way decisions were being made and the way they were being treated, the group started to unravel. There were numerous meetings before and during the trip. We had divided into a BIPOC group and white-identified groups to try to process separately and then come back together. Things worsened with the stresses of travel and the first couple of days in camp. We regrouped in a space generously provided by allies in Duluth and met intensively together and in our separate groups.
I threw myself into talking with the other white people. I talked about my ongoing struggles to deal with my own internalized white supremacy and patriarchy. I took responsibility for repeatedly making mistakes and inadvertently harming BIPOC folks during my life and organizing and how I try daily to decolonize, apologize for my errors, and work to repair relationships that have suffered. I vulnerably talked of the personal harms of sexual abuse and violence that I have experienced, which I rarely speak of, to try and help the cis men understand the layers of oppression many BIPOC women and other marginalized people deal with. To no avail. One white man in particular could not see his role in white supremacy and patriarchy. His white fragility kicked in big time, and 4 of the 6 white folks left earlier than expected WITH the van that was rented to bring all of us to camp. This decision was made individually, communicated indirectly, with no accountability to the group process that was trying to come up with a collective resolution.
Those of us who were left regrouped, having become tight in the struggle. We rented a vehicle on a credit card and went back to camp where we were warmly welcomed. We were told it was sadly not the first time the camp had witnessed such dynamics. As white people, we must be willing to listen to BIPOC folks and take their leadership. We white people are so used to our privilege. Being in charge and making decisions can seem so natural and familiar.
La luta continua!