Catholic Workers join protest
AUTOMBA — Against a backdrop of large pipes stacked like cordwood, Nicholle Ramsey stood alongside two dozen others on the trespassing-side of a long fence Monday, April 9.
Their arrival drew a small group of sheriff's deputies and the attention of Enbridge to the remote corner of Carlton County.
But there were no arrests on this day — only songs and appeals for the energy company to reconsider its proposal to construct a new Line 3 oil pipeline across northern Minnesota.
"This isn't my land; this isn't Enbridge's land; this is Ojibwe land," Ramsey said, projecting loudly as she cited the Treaty of 1854 and punctuated her address by saying, "I stand in solidarity with them."
Obscured by barbed wire, Ramsey, 22, of Winona, Minn., spoke with conviction gained from three years of volunteering with the Catholic Workers.
The Catholic Workers practice a simple, sometimes impoverished life in advocacy of justice for others, they explained. In Duluth, Loaves and Fishes and Hildegard House are safe havens started by the Catholic Workers.
They came to the wooded farmland near the Kettle River — some 50 miles southwest of Duluth — to occupy both sides of the fenced-in pipe storage yard along Carlton County Highway 6. Their gesture appeared to be appreciated by tribal water protectors who began an ongoing series of direct-action protests at Enbridge sites outside Superior last summer. Locking themselves onto gates and equipment at worksites and offices has earned several protesters arrests for misdemeanor charges including trespassing and obstruction of justice.
But Monday, the few tribal members present used camera phones to livestream the protest on social media. There were no locking devices used by Catholic Workers — only a multitude of voices and protest signs.
Lt. Rick Lake, of the Carlton County Sheriff's Office, saw no reason to press the issue.
"They're being peaceful; they're not causing any damage," he said, surveying the landscape. The plan was to let the event dwindle as the day went along, which is what appeared to be happening. By midafternoon, the authorities left the scene ahead of enduring protesters, Sheriff Kelly Lake said in a news release.
"Enbridge will call if there are public safety concerns," she said.
An Enbridge spokesperson said the company had a person at the scene and agreed with law enforcement's position to let things be.
"Our only concern overall is that ongoing criminal activities drain law enforcement resources and have the potential to take the focus of law enforcement away from communities that might be in need of services," Enbridge spokeswoman Shannon Gustafson told the News Tribune.
Enbridge is constructing a pipeline to replace the existing 50-year-old Line 3 that crosses northern Minnesota on its route from Alberta to Superior. The replacement is under construction in Canada and Wisconsin, but awaiting the outcome of a review process in Minnesota.
"They're about to put a pipeline right under our wild rice," said Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa member Jaclyn Furtman of Duluth, citing ceded lands through which the proposed Line 3 replacement will travel. "As Anishinaabe, it's our livelihood."
The protesters crawled into the storage yard under a wide gap under the fence sometime in the mid-morning, Lt. Lake said.
By the time the sun made its presence felt, the protest featured harmonized singing and a symbolic placing of glass jars of water inside tubes of pipe.
"Those are our hopes and prayers inside those jars of water," said Michele Naar-Obed of Duluth. "We are asking Enbridge, 'Don't do this.' They don't have to go through with this."
Naar-Obed suggested the pipes could be repurposed into wind turbines or transformed altogether.
"Turn the oil pipe into organ pipe," she said — the gospel sounds of "Down by the Riverside" carrying on over her shoulder.