By Kelly Lundeen
Canadian oil transport company Enbridge has a tough task ahead of it in Wisconsin and Michigan. Keeping their 69-year-old Line 5 pipeline flowing with tar sands requires the approval of two major projects: the reroute of the pipeline around the Bad River Reservation of the Lake Superior Chippewa (Ojibwe), in Wisconsin, and a tunnel under the Straits of Mackinac, the narrow strip of water connecting Lake Michigan and Lake Huron.
Opposition to pipelines has been fueled by growing awareness that climate chaos can be diminished by rejecting coal, oil, and gas projects. Furthermore, the Indigenous-led movement against fossil fuel infrastructure reminds US citizens that it is everyone’s responsibility to uphold Article 6 of the Constitution, the supreme law of the land, which states that international law, such as treaties with native nations, takes priority over conflicting state laws.
Sherry Couture spoke at the Treaty People Convergence August 6, which her organization R.I.S.E. Coalition, Nukewatch, and several other groups helped organize through the Wisconsin Building Unity network. “I come from Fond du Lac, the 1854 Treaty territory [of the Lake Superior Chippewa] … I’m known as a Treaty walker … I’ll do anything for the nibi [“water” in Ojibwe]. I’ll live in a ditch. I’ll walk to the Capitol. I’ll sleep on the pipeline. [We] will chase Enbridge down and make sure that they leave our reservation,” she said. The US government violates the Treaty signed with the Fond du Lac by allowing Enbridge’s pipeline to run through the Treaty territory. At the Convergence, on the anniversary of Hiroshima day, Nukewatch linked the issues of the targeting of Indigenous populations and people of color both by nuclear weapons and environmental racism.
Nonviolent action against the Line 5 projects has been ongoing, and Enbridge also faces legal challenges by the Bad River Band and the State of Michigan. In 2013, the Bad River Band refused to renew pipeline easements across their reservation in northern Wisconsin, and in 2019 the Band sued to have the pipeline removed, forcing Enbridge to propose a reroute. On September 7, US District Judge William Conley found Enbridge to be trespassing on the Reservation for nearly a decade, yet didn’t go as far as shutting down the pipeline. Enbridge is working to obtain permits for a reroute while a Final Environmental Impact Statement is being completed. In order to demonstrate union support, Enbridge has already secured project labor agreements with four labor unions and a construction company that was partially owned by Wisconsin gubernatorial candidate Tim Michels (when the contract was signed). Enbridge, a foreign company, is on track to spend as much as $1.7 million on US lobbying for a second consecutive year.
A 2010 Enbridge oil spill into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River, the largest inland oil spill in US history, called into question the Line 5 pipeline’s safety, particularly where it runs under the Straits of Mackinac in the Great Lakes, which contain 20% of the world’s freshwater. In 2018, a boat anchor was dragged across the pipeline, causing damage but not a rupture. Even those concerned about energy independence would wonder if putting the Great Lakes at peril is worth the 10% of oil from Line 5 reaching the US market, while 90% returns to Canada. Former Michigan governor Rick Snyder approved Enbridge’s plan to pass the pipeline through a tunnel under the Straits. Enbridge is still hoping to acquire state and local permits.
Nukewatch has supported Indigenous-led objections to both regional Enbridge pipeline projects, Line 3 and Line 5, including Camp Makwa starting in 2017, and a walk supporting Treaty rights last year. This spring Nukewatch organized local events as part of the March Forth to Earth Day actions opposing Line 5, which took place throughout Wisconsin. Pushback against the pipelines will continue in order to protect the water, the Earth, and the people.
What you can do:
• The Army Corps of Engineers is taking comments through October 14 on the proposed tunnel under the Straits of Mackinac for the Environmental Impact Statement scoping process. Participate in a public meeting on October 6, noon Central time, here: https://us06web.zoom.us/j/82961743672; or by phone (309) 205-3325 (zoom ID 829 6174 3672).
• Submit comments online with a sample letter here: oilandwaterdontmix.org/submit_army_corps_tunnel_comment.