ST. PAUL — The halls of the Minnesota Capitol on Wednesday, July 14, filled with the chants of Indigenous people and environmental activists protesting against Enbridge’s Line 3 pipeline replacement project, as they urged President Joe Biden and Gov. Tim Walz to halt the project that cuts through northern Minnesota.

Wednesday’s protest coincided with a newly filed appeal against the pipeline’s permits, filed in Minnesota’s Supreme Court by the White Earth Band of Ojibwe, Red Lake Band of Chippewa, the Sierra Club and others. It also came one day after Line 3 crew members spilled drilling fluid in northern Minnesota.

Crowded into the Capitol rotunda, activists and tribal members held signs declaring “Water is life,” “You can’t drink oil,” “Doom to the pipeline” and, “Kill the black snake.” Their protests echoed down the marble halls to Walz’s office, where they hoped he could hear them through his door.

Joe Vital, an organizer and citizen of the Red Lake Nation, told the crowd that tribal members came to St. Paul to make themselves heard and exert their tribal sovereignty “because for years, it has been ignored" by the state and federal governments.

“We exerted all of our resources. We’re in the courts. We’ve shown up at the front lines. We've advocated for the manoomin (wild rice),” he said. “We’re showing our tribal sovereignty in their face and we’re still being ignored.”

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Wednesday's demonstrators, including representatives from the White Earth Nation, say they weren't properly consulted by the U.S. and Minnesota governments through the Line 3 permitting process, which they say violates treaties that are "the supreme law of the land," drafted in the 19th century.

Allan Roy, the secretary and treasurer of the White Earth Nation, told the crowd that hundreds of years ago, when the Ojibwe people came to what we now call Minnesota, “It was prophesied that we would come to the land where food grew on water. It’s known as manoomin, otherwise known as wild rice.”

“We are obligated, we are responsible, we must protect our wild rice,” Roy said. “That is tribal law. And that’s why I'm standing here today, because we took a solemn oath to our constitution and to our people to do the right thing.”

Allan Roy, the secretary and treasurer of the White Earth Nation, tells Line 3 protesters at the Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul on Wednesday, July 14, 2021, that it is the White Earth Nation's responsibility to protect wild rice and the water where it grows. Sarah Mearhoff / Forum News Service
Allan Roy, the secretary and treasurer of the White Earth Nation, tells Line 3 protesters at the Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul on Wednesday, July 14, 2021, that it is the White Earth Nation's responsibility to protect wild rice and the water where it grows. Sarah Mearhoff / Forum News Service

Roy went on to call directly on Walz and Lt. Gov Peggy Flanagan, who herself is a member of the White Earth Nation, “for your help in this process.” Several other demonstrators at the Capitol took specific aim at Flanagan, holding bright signs that read in bold font, “Where are you, Peggy?”

After the demonstration, Flanagan released a statement on her Twitter reiterating her opposition to the project, but said she herself cannot stop the project.

"My daughter knows that she is a water protector and that water is our first medicine. She knows that our homeland is 'where food grows on water' and that our sacred manoomin needs clean water in order to grow,” Flanagan wrote. “The values we espouse in our own home cannot be separated from the values we live publicly. Support for Line 3 is inconsistent with my family’s values.”

“While I cannot stop Line 3,” she continued, “I will continue to do what is within my power to make sure our people are seen, heard, valued and protected. Using my voice is an important part of that work.”

On the opposite side of the issue, a group of Republican lawmakers from both Minnesota’s House and Senate released a group statement responding to Wednesday’s protest, saying, “this project is moving forward because it is the right thing for Minnesota.”

“We know the best way to protect our environment is to replace aging infrastructure with something new and better,” they wrote. “Line 3 does all of this in a responsible way and is something we believe everyone needs to accept and appreciate."

In a follow-up statement late Wednesday, Enbridge spokesperson Juli Kellner pointed to a recent Minnesota Court of Appeals decision upholding the pipeline's permits, which said in part that the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission "reasonably selected a route for the replacement pipeline based upon respect for tribal sovereignty, while minimizing environmental impacts.”

Kellner added that the project has the support of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe and Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, and that the White Earth Nation "was also included and invited to be part of the process" with Enbridge.

Editor's note, July 15, 2021: This story has been updated to reflect a statement from Enbridge.