Nancy Marie Beaulieu: Protector of Treaties

Nancy Marie Beaulieu shows a swath of land that was dug for the Line 3 pipeline near the encampment where she and others held space. Photo Sarah Whiting

Nancy Marie Beaulieu called it holding space when she and others stayed on the easement of land controlled by Canadian energy company Enbridge Incorporated in June. “That was our 1855 Treaty encampment. It was not a Line 3 protest camp,” she says. “We [are] asserting our treaty rights, which is not criminal. It is Article VI of the United States Constitution.”

A co-founder of Resilient Indigenous Sisters Engaging (RISE) Coalition and a citizen of Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, Beaulieu has been both a leader in resisting Enbridge’s Line 3 pipeline and a tireless educator on treaty rights and Native sovereignty.

Founded by Beaulieu in cohort with three other Native women — Debra Topping, Anna Yliniemi, and Dawn Goodwin — RISE works with tribal, local, and state governments to protect land and water, and to ensure Native people are properly consulted and represented in tribal decisions. RISE participates in public speaking and networking engagements to educate Native and non-native people on treaty obligations. They say Enbridge did not secure informed consent from Native peoples to run the pipeline through treaty lands.

Treaty obligations were a cornerstone of the movement led by Native groups and environmental activists against Line 3, which became operational on October 1. Members of RISE and others hold that treaties — particularly those signed in 1854, 1855, and 1863 — ensured Native people the right to hunt, fish, gather, and preserve cultural resources on land where the 337-mile corridor of replacement pipeline runs.

“My role is to remind people that treaties are [as] alive today as the day they were signed,” Beaulieu says. “And as a Native person, it is my inherent responsibility to defend our treaties and our way of life.”

The ecological toll of deforestation, the pollution of wild rice beds and water bodies, and the risk of future spills violates treaty rights. The pipeline has already played a role in drying out watersheds in the region; Enbridge pumped nearly five billion gallons of water during construction.

Beaulieu has made her dissent from her tribal leaders’ approval of the project known. In January, she spoke publicly to leaders from the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe — the governmental authority for six Ojibwe bands in Minnesota. She stated that the executive leaders violated the tribe’s constitution, which holds that leaders will conserve and preserve the tribe’s resources for the well-being of its people.

The speech was followed by direct action initiatives, including RISE Coalition’s eight days of prayer on the Enbridge drill site at the Mississippi Headwaters.

Working in a Good Way

Beaulieu first participated in pipeline resistance at Standing Rock in 2016, protesting the Keystone XL Pipeline. She was a nursing student at the time, in addition to being a mother and grandmother. “Going to Standing Rock, I had found that our clean water was not the only thing being attacked, it was our democracy and our right to be free and be heard. We are not treated equally.”

What comes next for RISE is still being formulated, but Beaulieu says there are plans underway for gatherings that will draw people from across Turtle Island. She believes the coalition is a model for building future treaty relationships with allies interested in working “in a good way.”

“We are going to take a look at the creation story, how we got here as Native people,” she says. “And then we are going to talk about the treaties between tribes, the treaties with our Native people, what is working and what is not working, and what kind of strategy we need moving forward to have our treaties honored and justice for all living things.”

Action = Change

Nancy Marie Beaulieu says, “If we recognized the real history of what happened to our people here, we would find a better understanding.” She encourages others to take the treaty pledge at MN350.