By Tom Hildebrandt
“Imagine that one day you wake up and find out that a pipeline company wants to run a thirty-inch pipe pumping 640,000 barrels of oil per day under high pressure through your burial grounds, sacred sites, medicinal plant harvesting areas, and no more than a mile from your biggest wild rice harvesting areas. And, they didn’t even bother to mention it.”
— Winona LaDuke, To Be a Water Protector
I responded to water protectors’ invitation to “come to the Mississippi River to pray, to witness, and to resist the destruction of these public lands and waterways in Anishinaabe territory.” I was welcomed into the camp on January 6. I brought donations of money for wood, gift cards, sleeping mats, and portable ice-fishing shelters.
My first day in camp, I “place held” with another water protector at the crossing, the spot where Enbridge’s new Line 3 would go under the Great River Road, downhill, and under the Mississippi River. Parallel to the “Exclusion Zone” (the marked pipeline route) is a right of way down to the riverbank where Winona LaDuke built a prayer lodge, which makes this area sacred and currently subject to a stay of construction. Warmed by a fire, we kept watch for any violations by Enbridge workers involved in pipeline construction or pre-construction work.
Day 2 was an unhurried and peaceful day in camp. Early morning was spent sitting around the campfire with others, talking, drinking coffee, sharing experiences, and learning what it is to be a water protector. The rest of the day was spent finishing up construction of a yurt and sharing duties at the security entrance to camp.
Day 3 started with a bit of excitement. At the crossing, there were several Enbridge workers and DNR conservation officers. A group of us gathered there to see what the activity was about. It turned out that Enbridge workers were relocating No Trespassing signs to enlarge the Exclusion Zone. The DNR was assisting the workers in making sure the signs were placed correctly. The rest of the day was spent working down by the Mississippi across from the Water Protector Welcome Center clearing an area on the riverbank in preparation for construction of an A-frame to be used for prayer and/or lodging if the main camp became too crowded.
Day 4, January 9, brought approximately 200 people to camp, responding to a call to come to the Welcome Center for a Rally for the Rivers: #StopLine3 event. The day started out with a march led by Native American women leaders dressed in their jingle dresses down to the crossing, where prayerful chanting and dancing took place. The large crowd stopped all traffic in the area for about an hour. The Great River Road is heavily traveled by pipeline-related traffic (e.g., dump trucks hauling sand and flatbeds hauling oil pipeline pipes).
From there, we got in our cars and caravanned 40 miles to a construction site on Hwy. 169 near Hill City. We parked along the shoulder of the highway. Exiting our cars, we gathered on the highway blocking traffic. One side of the road is a construction area, while the other side is a staging area for construction machinery and supplies. Some of the water protectors blocked the entrance to the staging area. Another group gathered around the machinery and workers at the construction site, causing disruption until finally Enbridge shut the job down.
By this time, there were many police officers at the site. I counted 26 squad cars at one point. All officers were carrying zip ties and threatening arrest if we did not start to disperse. Eight water protectors were taken into custody. Eventually, we all started to disperse, parting with this message: