This commentary is by Nancy Braus, Chandra Bossard, Abby Mnookin and Bert Picard, activists with 350 Brattleboro, 350VT, and Mother Up!
We four southern Vermont residents were honored to answer a national call from Indigenous water protectors to stand up for treaty rights and a world full of possibilities. It was time to join frontline actions to Stop Line 3 Tar Sands pipeline for the Treaty People Gathering June 5 – 8. We were called on as parents and grandparents and to honor our connection to all life.
We traveled together to Albany, where we caught an overnight train to Chicago — a first for some of us. After a five-hour break between trains that included biking along Lake Michigan, we hopped a train for Minneapolis and the intense heat wave baking the upper Midwest. From Minneapolis, it would be over four hours to the site where activists from all corners of the country were converging in an encampment on the White Earth Reservation of the Anishinaabe People.
Line 3 is what Enbridge, a Canadian pipeline company, calls a replacement, but that is a lie — it is a massive expansion that includes 337 miles of new, larger pipes, half in a new corridor. The disastrous pipeline proposes to drill under 22 rivers in Minnesota alone, as well as crossing over 200 bodies of water and would trample on longstanding treaty rights. To quote Winona LaDuke, co-founder of Honor the Earth: “Our ancestors made agreements to take care of this water and land forever together, and now is our time to do that.”
Pipelines leak. Not if, but when, is the only question. Line 3 is to carry 900,000 barrels a day of toxic tar sands oil. It will endanger the headwaters of the entire Mississippi as well as the wild rice beds of the Anishinaabe, the basis of their food and culture. Treaties signed between our settler ancestors and theirs, for which we are all responsible, guarantee their right to hunt, fish and gather. If we allow the wild rice to be destroyed, those treaties are violated.
Day 1: When we arrived, we became a part of the Treaty People Gathering. As Nancy Beaulieu, organizer with MN350 and co- founder of RISE, describes, “We are all treaty people. Our non-native allies have a responsibility to stand with us against projects like the line 3 that put our
Anishinaabe lifeway at risk.”
As we arrived at Pure Bliss — the meeting, group camping and training area — we felt warmly welcomed as comrades and relatives. The Native elders, including the powerful and respected grandmothers, generously shared their knowledge of treaty rights, songs, prayers and stories with the growing crowd of arrivals.
Just to be clear: The backdrop of the entire visit to Minnesota was record-breaking heat. The temperature was well north of 90, even above 95, in early June. A constant reminder of one of the many reasons why our work was so necessary.
Day 2: One of our group, Chandra, volunteered to do child care. The rest of us joined 1,000-plus activists for a day of trainings. The sense of common purpose and shared passion for justice was palpable. We were asked to decide between support roles and others more deliberately risking arrest, distinguished as “green,” “yellow” and “red.” Bert, Abby and Nancy all chose to be part of an action at the Headwaters of the Mississippi.
Day 3: Action day. We arrived early at the site. The landscape clearly showed the destructive effects of Enbridge starting work on the pipeline expansion. More than 1,500 people with a beautiful and creative array of signs, banners, a huge black snake (representing the pipeline) and our voices stating and singing loudly and clearly, “Our ancestors have spoken, now is the time, protect the sacred, stop the pipeline!” We made our way toward a bridge over the narrow stream that is the Mississippi at that spot.
After a time of sacred chants and prayers by some of the Native Elders present, the celebrity supporters — including Bill McKibben, Jane Fonda, Rosanna Arquette and Taylor Schilling — made very brief, moving statements. After that, a group wrote “BIDEN: HONOR THE TREATIES” in huge chalk letters on the bridge. Hundreds then began the walk out on the rough construction road to the encampment, LeSalle-Camp Fire Light. Water protectors still hold that space as of this writing on Thursday, June 10. Those at Camp Fire Light faced a huge wind and thunderstorm their first night.
As all this was happening, at a different site, 500 people were busy taking over an active pump station and chaining themselves to construction equipment. While they were successful in creating a temporary halt to construction, they were brutally arrested by the local sherriff’s department (paid for by Enbridge), sending some to the hospital. The same Homeland Security helicopter that regularly harasses those holding space at George Floyd Square in Minneapolis flew low enough to kick up huge amounts of dust in the scorching heat. Over 200 of these water protectors face charges — yet more evidence of “criminal” injustice.
On our last day in the north, we awaited information about arrested friends, acted as observers along the bridge, and supported those at the encampment with solidarity presence and supplies. Some of us swam in the small stream that will become the mighty Mississippi, still running clear. The water was a life-giving relief from the extreme heat. Water is life!
After returning to Minneapolis, many of us visited George Floyd Square and the nearby Say Their Names cemetery. Our souls filled with love and grief and rage and hope for healing in community. The connection between those in power stealing life and possibility, whether through the killing of Black and brown bodies by police or through poisoning the land and breaking treaties, was brutally obvious. Our struggles are connected.
We are on the train home: Our hearts are with the brave water protectors who remain on the frontlines of the Line 3 resistance, and we are resolved in our commitment to social, racial and climate justice. May we heed the calls for courageous action and all forms of solidarity.