By Dianne Brakarsh
“Find your bravery. We need your help.” When I heard Tara Houska’s words, I knew I would heed the call. Houska, a member of the Couchiching First Nation, a tribal attorney and founder of the Giniw Collective, is one of several Indigenous leaders of the fight against Enbridge’s Line 3 pipeline. The environmental impacts of the project are alarming, as are its tragic violation of Indigenous treaty rights. (See for information.)
As a person of racial and socioeconomic privilege, I have the luxury of choosing when and how to engage in activism. I can ignore an issue, support an initiative from afar or show up in person, if I wish. This time I chose to put my body on the line, as the Indigenous leaders of the Line 3 resistance have been doing for years. I chose to engage in nonviolent direct action.
The gathering took place Saturday, June 5, to Tuesday, June 8. Saturday’s opening ceremony was powerful and beautiful. The organizers of the gathering were so clearly moved, several of them to tears, by how many water protectors showed up for the cause! Saturday’s prayers, drumming, singing and dancing demonstrated the deep reverence for all of life held by the Anishinaabe community that welcomed us with open arms to their White Earth Reservation. A number of their Indigenous siblings from other First Nations around the country joined as well.
Sunday was Training Day! The morning featured presentations on treaty rights and the history of Line 3 resistance. Immediately after lunch there was a general nonviolent direct action training, after which we were asked to choose how we wished to participate and what level of risk we were willing to assume. It was made clear that all roles were important, from staying at the reservation and cooking, providing childcare or managing parking (no small feat!) to attending an action at one of three risk levels: green (most likely avoiding arrest), yellow (willing but not necessarily wanting to be arrested) or red (taking action that would definitely result in arrest).
I chose yellow. Within that group we were further divided according to lower or higher levels of risk. I chose Level 3, which resulted in my being assigned to the highest risk action of the three that took place. More training ensued. We were taught how to prepare for and approach the action and what the role of the legal observers and jail supporters would be, and then we were divided into caravans. We were taught that the minute we exited our cars, the action would begin.
We gathered the next morning at 6:45 a.m., to be picked up by our drivers at 7:00. Our caravan drove for close to an hour before reaching our site — the Two Inlets pump station a few miles south of Itasca State Park. Much to my surprise only two police officers were there. Some protesters from another camp had arrived earlier, alerting security. (Enbridge, by the way, pays several county sheriff’s departments, local police forces and the state patrol to police construction of Line 3.) We easily entered the site and proceeded to our places, following directions. Before long Winona LaDuke of Honor the Earth, Tara Houska and a number of other Indigenous leaders appeared with Jane Fonda and other celebrities (stars of TV shows that I don’t watch, so I don’t remember their names 🙂 ).
Hours passed and the heat intensified. Several of us were called to different jobs, such as protecting cars from being towed, quickly receiving supplies from the reservation before they could be confiscated by police, and blocking the entrance to the main pump station. As we were doing this, the red attendees were following their instructions at the center of the pump station. Many of them locked down to bulldozers and other equipment, surrounded by pods who were there to support them. At some point during the afternoon we were all buzzed by a Homeland Security helicopter. It flew so close to our heads that the sound was deafening, and it stirred up swirling clouds of dust and debris. We later learned that the helicopter had flown only 20 feet about us, while 500 feet is the rule. It was loud, it was intimidating, yet it didn’t cause us to disperse, even when it returned 20 minutes later to do it again.
Throughout the day we were very well cared for. I was amazed, in fact, by the level of support. There were medics to offer sunscreen, electrolytes and care for any heat-related or other health issues. Support folks supplied us with food and water — and more water, which, in the heat of the late afternoon, many of us dumped on our heads.
Around 4:00 p.m. law enforcement swept in. It had taken them that long to organize, as they were overwhelmed by the number of protesters. We were quickly called back to the perimeter of the pump station, linking arms to form a blockade. Police poured into the area around the equipment; my blockade line was quickly facing a SWAT team. We faced off for hours.
Meanwhile, an extrication team began the tedious process of sawing through the lockdowns. Groups of people began to be herded to buses or vans to be taken for arrest. At some point, it was announced that my blockade line was “kettled” (corralled awaiting arrest). After about two and a half hours spent with the SWAT team, I could see that they were getting antsy, probably wondering what was happening behind the metal fence surrounding the equipment. My affinity group buddy and I chose that time to leave; we walked out of the site to find our driver.
All night long I thought of all the people who had risked so much more than I to make a stand. I’d prepared to be arrested and perhaps spend a night in jail. But I later learned that — while some received citations and were released — many were held for 16–20 hours without even being charged; a number spent three days and nights in jail before release; others did not receive their prescription medications as they were supposed to; and several calls for medical assistance during incarceration were ignored. I realized that I had been overly optimistic — foolish, perhaps — to think that I would likely get out of jail within 24 hours.
Here is the most important point, I think, for all readers: We can all participate! We can all serve as water protectors, whether we’re able to join the frontlines or not. Please, please visit to sign a petition, email and call President Biden, asking him to honor the treaty rights of the Anishinaabe, protect the climate and the water, and #StopLine3!