A standoff between Indigenous-led protesters and a militarized police force. Hundreds of water protectors arrested. Construction crews racing to build a massive oil pipeline that would threaten critical waterways and treaty-protected lands.
These are images many of us have come to associate with the protests against the Dakota Access pipeline at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation five years ago. But history is repeating itself, and a similar scene is playing out right now in northern Minnesota, where regulators have rubber-stamped approvals for Canadian pipeline company Enbridge to build their Line 3 tar sands pipeline.
If completed, this pipeline would carry more than 760,000 barrels of toxic tar sands oil per day through more than 200 bodies of water in the Mississippi River headwaters region and the pristine lake country of northern Minnesota where Native Americans harvest wild rice and hold treaty rights. Thousands of water protectors have gathered along the pipeline route to stand against this destructive project. Many have bravely put their bodies on the line to halt construction, and hundreds have already been arrested.
There is one man who can act now to stop this destruction, and the volatile standoff that has arisen between protesters and law enforcement in response. Jaime Pinkham, a Biden appointee who is now the acting assistant secretary of the Army for civil works, could act today to revoke the federal permit for Line 3, issued in the final days of the Trump administration, to allow for a full assessment of the impact completing this pipeline would have on clean water, the climate, and Indigenous rights.
When Pinkham was appointed to this role, water protectors were hopeful. A Niimíipuu citizen himself, Pinkham has spoken out about destructive pipelines and the need for meaningful tribal consultation in the past. In fact, in 2016, he hailed the Army Corps of Engineers’ decision to halt an easement for Dakota Access and to call for a full environmental-impact review, arguing that the protests at Standing Rock could have been avoided if the government had respected tribal sovereignty and listened to concerns from the tribe about the pipeline’s impact on their water and way of life.
But despite the fact that Pinkham is now in a position to do exactly that, he has refused to act, and so far Pinkham and the Biden administration have continued with the Trump administration’s position on Line 3. Every day that passes without action from the administration, Enbridge is barreling ahead with construction. There have already been spills in the course of construction, and if they are allowed to continue there will only be more.
Allowing this pipeline to be completed poses a direct threat to Indigenous peoples’ treaty rights, clean water, and cultural practices. Jaime Pinkham understands this as well as anyone, and now he has a choice to make. He can stand by as Enbridge forever scars our sacred lands and water protectors are threatened and abused by law enforcement, or he can heed his own words and intervene to stop this dangerous pipeline project. We hope he will make the right decision.
Darrell G. Seki Sr. is the tribal chairman of the Red Lake Band of Chippewa.
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