Line 3 Pipeline Threatens Minnesota Waters and Indigenous Wild Rice Harvests

By Ashira Morris, ODP Staff Writer

The controversial Line 3, a pipeline expansion under construction in northern Minnesota that would transport one million barrels of tar sands per day, hasn’t begun operating yet, but is already causing harm. The line’s construction, coupled with drought, has created low water levels in Minnesota lakes where Indigenous Anishinaabe wild rice harvesters return each year. The Enbridge project for the replacement line that will double its original capacity, has a permit to pump up to five billion gallons of water for construction. This summer, the project also recorded 28 drilling fluid spills, further threatening aquatic life. 


“As far as I’m concerned, Enbridge screwed up our lake, and they’re taking money directly away from our families,” Jerry Libby, an Anishinaabe wild rice harvester, told the Guardian. “It makes us feel anguished — this is our staple food, you know.”


Why This Matters: For the Indigenous Anishinaabe harvesters, the low water levels prevent them from harvesting wild rice, which is sacred and part of their ceremonies. This “depriv[es] them of a major source of physical and spiritual sustenance, as well as a significant source of income,” the Guardian writes. Line 3 runs across some of the country’s most significant water bodies for wild rice.


And beyond the harm Line 3 poses to Indigenous communities, it’s a fossil fuel pipeline. Once operational, the pipeline will be responsible for emissions equivalent to 50 coal plants, according to analysis by the nonprofit Oil Change International.


Rights for Wild Rice

There have been protests against the Line 3 pipeline since Minnesota regulators approved the project back in 2015. This summer, a series of protests faced violent pushback from law enforcement, including protestors kettled outside the governor’s residence being kettled. 

In addition to protests, a tribal court lawsuit is working to prevent the pipeline and protect wild rice. Using the concept of rights of nature — which posits nature has a right to flourish and isn’t human property — the wild rice is the plaintiff in a case against the state’s Department of Natural Resources. The state appeals court recently gave the case a step forward, ruling that the tribe (the northwestern Minnesota’s White Earth Band of Ojibwe) is immune from being sued but the state isn’t.

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