Tania Aubid, Water Protector

Tania Aubid (Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe). Photo by River Aquamann

In November 2020 and after years of court battles and reviews, Minnesota regulators approved the final permit for the Line 3 Pipeline Replacement Project, greenlighting Canadian company Enbridge Energy to construct a new 337-mile corridor of tar sands oil pipeline through the northern half of the state. The $9.3 billion project stretches from Alberta, Canada, to Superior, Wisconsin, and its implementation allows Enbridge to abandon the original 282 miles of aging, corroded pipeline in Minnesota.

Since the project — the largest in Enbridge’s history — was first proposed in 2014, Indigenous and environmental groups have raised opposition. Pipeline construction will pollute waterways, and a spill could decimate ecosystems, they argue. Those in opposition also say the project expands a dying industry. Enbridge should invest in cleaning up the original pipeline, and Minnesota should focus on transitioning to renewable energy and sustainable infrastructure.

The route runs through Fond du Lac Reservation and treaty lands of several other bands of Ojibwe. Certain tribal leaders accepted the project, but not all community members were consulted.

Another reason for opposition is the influx of out-of-state pipeline workers who live in “man camps.” Man camps are nothing new and have supported industries such as logging, mining, and railway construction throughout colonization.

According to the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) Task Force report, “Directly related to the MMIW injustice is the increase in sexual harassment and assault, and increased demand for commercial sex within man camps [where there is a] ‘hyper-masculine culture’ of the temporary, mostly male, and younger workforce.”

As part of the permit agreement, Enbridge is mandated to collaborate with the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and Tribes United Against Trafficking to create a public awareness campaign around sex trafficking. They also are supposed to develop sex trafficking awareness modules for their workers.

Sheila Lamb [find her story here] told the Star Tribune in January that Enbridge’s efforts are “inadequate” if penalties for trafficking are not increased. In February, two Enbridge workers were among those arrested in a trafficking sting in Itasca County and were promptly terminated by the company.

Minnesota Women’s Press connected with Tania Aubid, an activist who is participating in the growing number of resistance camps along the construction route.

What are key reasons for resistance to the pipeline?

Tania Aubid: The fight is for fresh, clean water; to protect our wild rice, which is under attack; and to bring awareness to the missing and murdered Indigenous women. Operations in Itasca County arrested men who have been trying to solicit sex from minor women. These are the things that happen when the pipeline comes through. Local people are also being drawn into [sex and drug trafficking] and they, too, are being caught.

Over in the town of McGregor, one of the pipeline workers went into the Holiday gas station store without a mask on. One of our Native ladies, she was up at the counter doing her business. He came up right close behind her and started making derogatory remarks until the manager said ‘not in my store.’ It’s not being tolerated up here.

What are the sounds and sights you are hearing and seeing as construction is going on?

TA: When I got up here and made my basecamp, I could hear the construction happening. The logging of the trees — they cut the top off and shred it down to make matting for their equipment to roll over. You could hear those sounds during the day and into the night, the trucks rumbling by and clearing the path. It was constant. Right now it is quiet but you can hear the planes and helicopters flying overhead. This is private property, and I hear planes flying over constantly.

It reminds me of being at Standing Rock at the No DAPL [Dakota Access Pipeline] movement. It is triggering for me to be here — an affront to the senses. To hear all this again is kicking up my post-traumatic stress disorder, for which I have gone through therapy.

When they took down the trees, to me that is an act of genocide. That is a declaration of war against the Ojibwe — to push this pipeline through.

Why do you take action?

TA: You are made of water, aren’t you? What you drink and put into your body you would want to be healthy and clean. If you put oil into that water, what is going to happen to you? You are going to have medical issues, cancers, tumors. That is why I fight so hard.

I was at Standing Rock for nine months, from April through February, and I did a 28-day hunger strike. Today I am on day 12 of a hunger strike.

I have been drinking water to sustain myself. I have a medic here who has been keeping an eye on me. I am hoping that being on this hunger strike raises awareness of how important it is that we have clean water. The logging that is happening is cutting down our fresh air.

From Standing Rock until now, there have been a lot of people that are awakening their souls to this. We have to get back to the basics. It took us 50 years to get to this point, where we have vehicles that run on gas. Now it is going to take that transition time to go into a cleaner economy.

What were your thoughts upon hearing about trafficking arrests in February?

TA: Some pipeline workers have the idea that ‘we are not in our state, we can use bully tactics and prey on the not-so-rich people or the women that are here.’

They go for the younger women — that is what I am understanding — underage folks. They will tempt them with money. Drug trafficking has also been happening. When I first heard about [the Itasca sting] I was like, ‘I knew it. We voiced [concerns about trafficking] in many public hearings and PUC [Public Utilities Commission] meetings.’ We told them that this was going to happen.

To me, Enbridge’s integrity is not all there.

I consider the environmental impact statement the judge signed off on to be incomplete, because they went through sacred sites recognized on the map. Some so-called property owners will not let some of the tribal cultural monitors and surveyors do their jobs, so I do not know if they are hiding artifacts.

How are the resistance camps set up?

TA: We have five different camp sites, from Fond du Lac all the way up to White Earth. Each camp is under Native leadership. I am at the Welcome Water Protectors Center. People come to the Center to get an idea of what to expect at other camps.

Here we have prayer action. We go down to the Mississippi River and we pray for the water. People get an eagle eye view of what it looks like as far as the destruction, the cutting of the trees. Winona LaDuke and I have put a lodge out by the Mississippi River.

The other camps are smaller because they are just getting off the ground and do not have as many resources. We do what we can to be able to spread the donations that come here. We have been able to host a slew of different denominations that come in and do prayer, song, dance, or art.

For those who want to support your work, what do you suggest they do first?

TA: Come on up and check it out for yourselves. If you cannot, go to the Mississippi River and put some prayers out over there. Or pray for the 22 river crossings that Enbridge wants to go through. Pray for them so that they get an injunction to stop this pipeline from happening — because everybody is made of water and everybody wants a healthy life.

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