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As Line 3 construction proceeds, what does protection mean for us?

At the bare minimum, it must call us to stand together in solidarity to stop the pipeline.

Indigenous leaders and activists participating in a prayer at the Mississippi headwaters in Solway on June 7.
Indigenous leaders and activists participating in a prayer at the Mississippi headwaters in Solway on June 7.
REUTERS/Nicholas Pfosi

As a mother, I know that my purpose is to protect and nurture the lives I birthed. Every day I try to protect my kids from the dangers in this world. I buckle them into car seats. I put on their bike helmets. I hold their hands when we are in crowds. I place them in the care of only trusted adults.

I also desire to protect them from the scarier things that keep me up at night, like what kind of a future they will inherit as an environmental catastrophe unfolds around us. In this moment, these worries are focused on the human-induced harm being imposed by the construction of Line 3 in Minnesota. This pipeline being built by the Canadian multinational Enbridge will soon carry 760,000 barrels of tar sand oil per day from Alberta, Canada, to Superior, Wisconsin.

​​On July 20, I gathered with dozens of others at the headwaters of the Mississippi and witnessed historic levels of drought, which threaten ways of life for all of us, but most immediately for the Anishinaabe people who have harvested wild rice (manoomin) in the region for centuries. I observed the impact of the Minnesota DNR’s decision to permit the Enbridge corporation to pull 5 billion gallons of water from the water table for the construction of Line 3. Amidst the haze in the air from the wildfires, I felt profound grief for the disregard of life I was witnessing. From our ecosystems to the assault of Indigenous rights and their means of maintenance, which carries horrid echoes of the historic and ongoing colonial assaults committed against Indigenous people always in the hunt for economic profit, I felt the acuteness of the crisis in which we find ourselves more sharply than ever.

And as I stood there, I could also sense the interconnections between the water that gives life to the wetlands of northern Minnesota and my – and many others’ – search to not only protect, but nurture our children and other forms of life so that hope and love can flourish in their lives. The question, which emerged then is: What does it mean to nurture and protect now in this urgent moment?

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Indigenous leaders, environmental activists, scientists and concerned members of the public have had foresight that this exigency was coming. For over more than seven years, they attended all the hearings, provided the testimonies, conducted the studies, created the documentaries, wrote the songs, created the art, and cooked the gathering meals to stop the construction of the Line 3 pipeline. These wise people of conscience resisting Line 3 have the ancestral wisdom to understand inherently that protection of all life is what is just, right and necessary.

And yet, Minnesota agencies permitted Line 3 and construction began late last year, illuminating that the profit of corporate elites is valued over natural life. That wealth is also valued over the lives and livelihoods of Indigenous people whose stolen land is being drilled through as well as other marginalized groups who are disproportionately affected by climate chaos.

Amy C. Finnegan
Amy C. Finnegan
As I stood on July 20 at the end of the easement on Great River Road in Clearwater County at the first Line 3 crossing on the Mississippi River, a muddy sludge mixed with unknown chemicals (the composition is a secret but it is known to contaminate the environment and have negative health effects) used in the pipeline drilling process seeped to the surface of the fragile wetlands. It is the ninth location on the pipeline route — that we know of — that such a frac out has occurred. The water protectors saw how workers scrambled. They observed, took footage of the spill, collected samples, prayed, held space and made calls to state officials and regulatory agencies. Based on my own unpleasant encounters with pipeline workers and the overall lack of regulatory oversight on Line 3, I fear that if the water protectors had not been nearby at the time of the spill, many of us would likely still not know of the dangerous accident that had taken place.

Unlike the water protectors who are sleeping at Camp Firelight in Clearwater County, I can’t see or hear the searing sounds of the pipeline drill every day, 24 hours a day, though it is haunting me. It is easier to put it out of sight, out of mind, as I tuck my children into bed back in the Twin Cities. But as a mother, I teach my kids to tell the truth, to respect others and our earth, to repair harm, and to speak up when something is not right. I know that I also must practice what I teach.

Thanks to Indigenous leaders like Gaagigeyaashiik (Dawn Goodwin) and Winona LaDuke, among others, I have learned that our responsibilities to nurture and protect life lie way beyond the human bodies to which we are closest.  All lives, including the plants, the trees, the microbes, the insects, the animals, the water, and entire ecosystems all deserve our love and protection. In the midst of the hazy air, the drought, and the heat, the urgency of our climate crisis could not be more poignant. What can protection mean for us today? At the bare minimum, it must call us to stand together in solidarity to stop Line 3.

Amy C. Finnegan organizes with EqualHealth and is an associate professor in justice and peace studies at the University of St. Thomas.

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