On Friday, July 23, a Minnesota court granted the emergency temporary restraining order we sought on behalf of Indigenous water protectors including Tara Houska and Winona LaDuke against Hubbard County, Sheriff Cory Aukes, and the local land commissioner in northern Minnesota. The Court has ordered cessation of the blockade and obstruction of the Giniw Collective’s camp and barred the Sheriff from continuing to issue citations and threatening to arrest persons for coming to and from the camp.
The ruling comes less than a week after the plaintiffs, activists opposing the expansion of Enbridge’s Line 3 pipeline, filed for a temporary restraining order against the Hubbard County Sheriff who unlawfully blockaded access to a camp serving as a convergence space and home for Indigenous-led organizing, decolonization and treaty rights trainings, and religious activities by water protectors seeking to defend the untouched wetlands and the treaty territory of Anishinaabe peoples. The Center for Protest Law and Litigation, EarthRights International and local counsel Jason Steck represent the plaintiffs.
“The Hubbard County Sheriff has been served notice that his illegal campaign of militarized harassment and obstruction against our clients must end now. Any ongoing effort by him to blockade the camp, turn it into an open-air prison or criminalize people for coming to and from the property will subject him to a contempt action.” stated Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, legal counsel to water protectors and director of the Center for Protest Law and Litigation at the PCJF. “This has been an outrageous abuse of law enforcement authority serving the interests of the Enbridge corporation against its environmental opponents. We will be moving for a permanent injunction to protect land defenders and water protectors from these abuses.”
“Although much of the state appears to have forgotten who their duty is owed to, I’m glad to see some refusing to bend to Enbridge and instead choosing to uphold Constitutional rights and basic tenets of law,” stated plaintiff Tara Houska. “Just because the Hubbard County Sheriff and Hubbard County Attorney are opposed to Native people protecting our homelands should not mean they can engage in violent, unlawful repression without consequence. Giniw Collective is glad to have rightful access to our home back.”
“We want to thank the court for informing Hubbard County about the rights of property owners, and hope that the Sheriff’s continued preoccupation with the repression of water protectors can be focused on real criminals,” stated plaintiff Winona LaDuke.
“This ruling is a decisive victory for our clients, Indigenous water protectors exercising their constitutional rights to oppose the expansion of the Line 3 pipeline,” said Marco Simons, General Counsel of EarthRights. “The sheriff admitted that this unprecedented interference with access to private property was intended to target water protectors protesting the Line 3 pipeline, and it follows a global pattern of harassing environmental protectors. This order is an important step toward listening to these communities and respecting their property rights.”
On June 28, the Sheriff’s department, with no notice, arrived with squad cars, riot lines of police and blockaded the only means of entry and exit to the camp, a driveway that has been in existence for 90 years. They have issued numerous citations and violently arrested persons seeking to travel on the driveway to bring food and water to the camp. This blockade is an escalation of a months-long unlawful campaign of harassment, arrests, disruption, surveillance and baseless pullovers of Indigenous water protectors and land defenders and their allies who oppose the Line 3 pipeline expansion.
The Sheriffs’ departments in the region are being paid by funds from the Enbridge pipeline corporation for their time spent acting against the pipeline’s opponents through a “Public Safety Escrow Fund.” Enbridge has paid more than $1 million to “reimburse” local sheriffs’ departments, effectively privatizing Minnesota’s public police forces in service to efforts to repress opposition to the pipeline.
Under the pretext that the small portion of the driveway extending from the Camp’s private property onto Hubbard County property is now suddenly a “trail” and not designated for vehicular traffic local sheriffs have either physically blocked access, at times by forming a line of over twenty officers, several armed with clubs, or issued citations to water protectors who have driven vehicles on the driveway, even when delivering food, water, or other necessary supplies.
The proposed new Line 3 pipeline would extend approximately 338 miles through northern Minnesota, carrying a projected 760,000 barrels of tar sands oil each day across 227 lakes and rivers (including the Mississippi River), over 800 protected wetlands and ceded lands where the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians and White Earth Band of Ojibwe exercise hunting, fishing, and gathering rights pursuant to treaties recognized by federal law. The pipeline would destroy culturally important wild rice beds, risk catastrophic spills, and significantly contribute to climate change, representing the equivalent of 50 coal plants worth of greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere.
Enbridge, which is already responsible for the largest inland oil spill in the United States, also holds a 27.6 percent equity stake in the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline. Tar sands are a particularly destructive form of fossil fuels. Their extraction and production is significantly more expensive and energy-intensive than that of oil. On a lifetime basis, a gallon of gasoline made from tar sands produces about 15 percent more carbon dioxide emissions than one made from conventional oil, according to The Union of Concerned Scientists.
Tara Houska is an environmental and Indigenous rights attorney and advocate, land defender, founder of the Giniw Collective and a leader of the efforts to stop Line 3. She is a citizen of Couchiching First Nation.
Winona LaDuke is a renowned activist working on issues of sustainable development, renewable energy, and food systems. She is the co-founder and executive director of Honor the Earth. She lives and works on the White Earth reservation in northern Minnesota, and is a member of the Mississippi Band Anishinaabeg.