Currently in northern Minnesota, Canada’s oil and gas transportation company Enbridge is constructing a pipeline extension, Line 3, to transport oil through fragile parts of the watersheds of the State as well as tribal lands protected by treaty. Winona LaDuke, a member of the local Ojibwe tribe and longtime indigenous rights activist, helped lead protests and acts of civil disobedience against the controversial $ 9.3 billion project. âI spend a lot of time,â she says, âfighting stupid ideas that disturb our land and our people.â So far, the efforts of LaDuke, who is 61 and ran alongside Ralph Nader as the Green Party running mate in 1996 and 2000, have been unsuccessful. The Biden administration has refused to withdraw federal permits for the project, a position Line 3 opponents see as hypocritical given the president’s cancellation of the Keystone XL pipeline as well as his vocal support for the action. climate. “I had the highest hopes for the Biden administration,” says LaDuke, “only to get them crushed.” Shortly after our interview, LaDuke was arrested and jailed for violating the terms of her release on previous protests related charges, which required her to avoid Enbridge yards. She has since been released.
How do you understand Biden’s decision to allow the construction of Line 3? He is determined to destroy the Ojibwa with this pipeline. To do what we get the last tar sands pipeline, Joe? It’s kind of like when John Kerry went to Congress to testify against the Vietnam War and said, Who’s going to tell this soldier he’s the last to die in a bad war? Who is going to tell these Ojibwa that they are the last to be destroyed for a bad tar sands pipeline? What’s right about this? I organized people to vote for Biden. I have led people to the polls across seas of Trump signs. I pushed Indians to vote who had not voted for 20 years. And what did we get from Joe? A pipeline stuck us down our gorge.
Are you saying that you think Biden has a specific animosity towards the Ojibwa? No. He has no animosity, but he favors a Canadian multinational. He knows this pipeline crosses our reserves. They know and have a choice of what to support. I think it’s a compromise for him: I canceled Keystone, so we’ll skip this one, because it’s a replacement pipe. It’s not. It’s a new pipe. It’s horrible. It is a violation not only of treaties, but also of every ounce of common sense. It’s drought right now. But Enbridge made an amendment: They get five billion gallons of water from an area where the rivers are 75 percent below normal. What is that ? There was no federal environmental impact assessment on this pipeline, and the Biden administration just said we don’t need to do one. I want to say, Why?
When I heard from people who work in the oil industry, people who are understandably worried about keeping their jobs, they said that the protesters are hypocrites: âThey want us to stop drilling for oil, but they want us to stop drilling for oil. do they think keeping their lights on? Does this argument make sense to you? It’s a stupid thing to say. Who wants to stay in the fossil fuel economy when we could switch to electricity? I’m waiting for my electric F-150. The next economy needs innovation. I like what Arundhati Roy said. She speaks of the pandemic as a portal between one world and another. What do you want to bring through the portal? Your avarice? Your dirty rivers? Your dirty skies? Or do you want to cross cleanly? Look, the world is changing. These guys you mentioned have a last economy playbook, and it just doesn’t work anymore. It didn’t work before. We told you, but it’s time to move on.
I think if you asked people to imagine where the great social and political arguments of the country are playing out – on things like cultural identity and systemic racism – they would imagine cities. But what is the point of view of these arguments from where you live? Now, we call it deep north, and there are seven Ojibwa reservations here. Much of our land has been taken over by non-Indians and the state. We should be the richest people and we are the poorest. These guys built these cities out of us. I think of the myth of Paul Bunyan. You don’t really think Paul Bunyan was a real guy, do you?
No. No, but Paul Bunyan had a name. His name was Fredrick Weyerhaeuser. His name was Andrew Carnegie. These guys have built empires on our backs. The dispossession and genocide of indigenous peoples are at the heart of the issues of critical race theory. Indians are much more arrested than non-Indians. Our incarceration is longer. Same thing if you look at police brutality: we have higher rates of death in custody than others. Everything about oppression, we got it. So we see a clear alliance with Black Lives Matter. Do you remember Donald Trump coming to Bemidji, Minnesota for his campaign? He did not come to see the Indians. He came to see the white people who live here. There are a lot of non-Indians who hate us. There are non-Indians who live on the reserve who put up posters in support of line 3 that are far from line 3. They put them up just because they hate Indians.
Where do you think the hate comes from? The hatred of Indians concerns those people living on stolen land. To justify the theft of land, it is necessary to do we less. This is the dehumanization we are facing. Our lands are owned by federal, state and county governments and large non-Indian landowners. Hatred of Indians is a practice of the Far North.
Is it hard to resist the urge to hate back? I don’t put any energy into it. I don’t like to be with them. Why would you want to engage in their negative ass [expletive]? Have you ever watched Archie Bunker? They’re all like Archie Bunker here. My strategy is that white people should work on white racism. It’s too much work for me. I’d rather just grow hemp than help these people sort their [expletive].
In your last book you wrote, âI think about white people every day. How often do whites think of Natives? “ Answer this question yourself. How often do you think of an Aboriginal person? I wonder how are those Indians there? Maybe once every two weeks?
My question is, what do you want white people to think of aboriginal people? What I want is I want white people to stop being White person. White is a social construct. I want them to know who they are, and I want them not to be a patriot of a flag but a patriot of a land. That’s what I want. The transience of white people has put us in this situation where they don’t even know who they are, where they come from; the idea that I’ll just keep going to greener pastures. What happened to the community and the place? I want people to find something and take care of it. I want them to give up their white privilege and be good humans. We need to fix these issues, and some people will not understand. I hope these people still understand that they want to be able to drink water. Even if you are a proud boy, you need water.
Rather than a lack of sense of community, isn’t the biggest problem that too many people’s ideas about community and place aren’t broad enough? Yes, I think Americanization is about being an islander – the nuclear family, the slightly extended nuclear family. I am not a member of the nuclear family. I live in my community, but my extended family – I feel responsible for hundreds of people in our community. Some people just take care of themselves. It’s sad, and that’s part of the reason we’re in the mess we find ourselves in right now. Instead of âlet’s make sure everyone has enough food,â we are busy hoarding toilet paper.
You criticized Enbridge for âpayingâ the local police. But is it not happening that the company reimburses the police for expenses that it would not have incurred otherwise? Maybe it’s just double talk, but it’s a slightly different thing than funding them, isn’t it? They encouraged oppression where cops can get extra money if they patrol more. So a lot of people get arrested – no reason to stop them but to accumulate it. And you know, a few days ago, I was on the river with a bunch of cops, and I said the company had broken the law. They had a spill. This is called a frac-out. I said, “You are here to stop we, corn they are those who committed the crime. It’s that betrayal of what you think your officers are meant to be. You assume that “to serve” would mean to serve you. The other thing is I can feel the body weight of hate. There is this hatred of the protectors of the water and the Indians that they encouraged by trying to criminalize us. I really feel it some days.
What are the prospects for the rest of the summer? Hell. They cut, they rectify, they weld, they break, they lay pipes. They are all around you, and they are coming towards you. It’s quite traumatic. Lots of cops, lots of destructive equipment, lots of scared people. They will try to put this pipe. They run over us. We’re going to do our best to stick to those places, but that’s the prospect. Hopefully a trial will stop them dead after brutalizing us for another month. I’m not saying Enbridge is beating me, but it is. They’re kicking my ass right now.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity from two conversations.
Opening illustration: Photographic source by Kerem Yucel / Agence France-Presse, via Getty Images