White Earth Nation Takes Dept. of Natural Resources to Court

Marja Cassidy, contributor

The White Earth Band of Ojibwe took a stand and sued Minnesota’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) in tribal court back in August. This suit was brought on by the DNR taking 5 billion gallons of water from the tribe and giving them to Enbridge, the Canadian pipeline company behind Line 3. Line 3 is a proposed pipeline expansion that would bring millions of barrels of tar sand daily from Alberta, Canada to Superior, Wisconsin, an expansion that would cut through treaty sanctioned land.

The actions of the DNR violate both the tribe members’ treaty sanctioned rights and the treaty sanctioned rights of the wild rice crop that grows on the affected land – a crop that would be harmed significantly by the pipeline expansion. This court case will be the first tribal court case to recognize the legal rights of a plant or animal species.

This act was also done while the state of Minnesota had restricted water usage due to the drought. The White Earth Nation sent a letter to the Minnesota federal court and told U.S District Judge Wilhelmia Wright that there wasn’t a need to reconsider her decision to dismiss the state’s DNR complaint due to tribal sovereign immunity. The DNR made a motion to dismiss the lawsuit entirely which the White Earth Band tribe rejected. There has been much back and forth between the two, but ultimately the tribal court had their evidentiary hearing on September 20th and they planned to nullify the DNR’s water permit. “We need to be able to enforce our laws – we can’t have people just arbitrarily taking 5 billion gallons of water.” says Frank Bibeau, tribal attorney and member of the White Earth Band. At this time, there hasn’t been any comment by the counsel of the state. 

An Anishinaabe woman in her late 40s named Kier is a citizen of White Earth Nation and is living there to protect the region from further harm than what has already been done by Enbridge putting in pipelines. The water levels in the rivers around where Kier and her community live has been falling to about 6 inches each and every day that passes. “Enbridge drills so far under the water that they risk hitting the aquifers.” Kier says, about the spilling coming from the drilling fluids also known as frac-out. There has already been a recorded 28 frac-outs and spills of fracking chemicals during the construction of the Enbridge pipeline, with one of the most recent being on September 21st at the headwaters of the Mississippi River. This is leading many to dread what damage could come later on.

Students who want to learn more about the oncoming lawsuit and the Stop Line 3 Movement can do so at websites like honorearth.org and mn350.org, as well as through on-campus organizations and resources such as the Augsburg Indigenous Student Association (AISA) and the Environmental Action Committee (EAC).