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Faith leaders to Minnesota officials: Prepare to protect the rights of Line 3 opponents

We hope that the police violence witnessed previously in similar protests will become a thing of the past.

Recently, as Gov. Tim Walz wisely decided to continue the Department of Commerce appeal of the Line 3 pipeline in northern Minnesota, the state’s faith leaders stepped up to sound a cautionary note. In a strongly worded letter to ranking state officials, more than 400 religious and spiritual leaders from around Minnesota called on government leaders to rein in law enforcement responses to the inevitable protests against Enbridge Line 3, should the line be approved and built. Indigenous people as well as their non-Indigenous allies have argued for years that this project violates treaty rights, environmental rules, and common sense. They will resist.

The timely missive urges officials to abide by human and civil rights standards as the process moves forward. The letter comes as other environmental groups and tribes — including the Sierra Club, Honor the Earth and others — also filed appeals of the Public Utilities Commission’s approval of the project. And it addresses individual state leaders about the potential use of force if protesters exercise their First Amendment rights:

    • To Public Utilities Commissioner and Chair Kathy Sieben: “We call on you to transparently define the criteria for — and limits on — funding for law enforcement via the “Public Safety Escrow Trust” in the Route Permit for Line 3, to be in explicit accordance with international human rights standards regarding use of police force.”
    • To Walz and Lt. Gov. Flanagan: “We call you to take leadership to ensure all state responses to protests adhere to your own Executive Order 13-10, which mandates a process of tribal consultation for each of your agencies whose work intersects with sovereign tribal nations.”
    • To Commissioner John Harrington, the Department of Public Safety: “You must ensure that Enbridge cannot influence state public safety decisions. We ask that when deciding police protocol for use-of-force, you make your decision-making process transparent to the public.”
    • To Rebecca Lucero, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Human Rights: “We call you to prepare on-the-ground human-rights observers as actively as Enbridge and the state and local law enforcement agencies seem to be preparing law enforcement to escalate violence. We need more than a civil rights investigation after the fact; we also need proactive protection of human rights [as the legal appeals and other actions about Line 3 move forward in the months ahead].”

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Questionable law enforcement strategy and tactics already in place

The letter references the law enforcement responses at Standing Rock in 2016 and at protests over George Floyd’s killing, showing that something else is needed rather than a full-blown military operation. And it warns of the strident and questionable law enforcement plans already in place with The Northern Lights Task Force, which has consulted with Morton County in North Dakota about its tactics during the DAPL (Dakota Access Pipeline) protests at Standing Rock. That pipeline was recently ordered to shut down by a federal district court until a thorough Environmental Impact Statement can be done.

Julia Nerbonne
Julia Nerbonne

We know that Minnesota law enforcement has been preparing to forcefully quell protests against Enbridge Line 3, should the project ever be built. In 2018 the state organized the “Northern Lights Task Force,” a coalition of law enforcement agencies preparing for Line 3 protests, including training and stockpiling gear.

The Canadian pipeline corporation Enbridge is also helping to coordinate communications, resources, and even funding the purchase of policing equipment through the PUC’s alarmingly shortsighted approval of the line again — despite the intensifying threats from global climate change and the immediate threats from the Covid-19 global pandemic.

I urge any readers of this piece to join us in defending the free speech of our Indigenous neighbors and those opposed to the pipeline. We hope that the police violence witnessed previously in similar protests will become a thing of the past.

Julia Nerbonne is the executive director of Minnesota Interfaith Power & Light.


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