The Oil Pipeline's 'Indian Listener'

Winona LaDuke

“Next time you come talk to us, you bring down your big homey …” Jason Hanks, told the representatives of Enbridge who came for a “ tribal listening session” at the Fond du Lac casino. Jason, from a wild rice harvesting family, came to attend the meeting, and expressed his concerns to the company, and a frustration that the community had not been heard. Hanks wanted a senior representative.

The thirty or so attendees at the May 28 meeting were a combination of wild ricers, organizations and tribal government natural resource department representatives .

“Where I am from, we were all displaced, our families were displaced. If that pipe leaks into that water, where our people are from, it will wipe us out….” — Tania Aubid, East Lake told Enbridge’s representatives.

It was a socially awkward gathering. Let’s be honest. The Enbridge Company’s Linda Coady, Senior Vice President of Sustainability had come out from Calgary to have a “ Listening Session” with the Native community. She was hosted by R. Jay Brunkaw, who is on contract with Enbridge to liason with tribal communities. He is affectionately known in Minnesota as “ the Indian Whisperer” a not too glamorous job in a volatile environment. Linda is known as the “Indian Listener”.

I have to hand it to Enbridge, coming face to face with the community, in a small, two hour listening session was, a good thing to do, especially if you’ve got about 2.2 million barrels of relatively new oil pipeline proposals you plan on putting through their territory.

It was clearly stated that the meeting did not constitute “consultation” which is what most projects require, and Enbridge has said it will do with the Native community. But what Linda Coady heard was perhaps something new. First, there were four tribal governments who sent natural resources people to visit with Enbridge, Leech Lake, Fond du Lac, Bad River and Red Cliff. No elected officials were present. Three of those governments already had pipelines through their territory, and their concerns were about the maintenance and problems with the present line. Levi Brown from Leech Lake explained, “There are six lines running through 46 miles of the reservation, and no emergency response equipment within the 46 mile corridor. That doesn’t seem like much of a commitment to tribal needs or concerns.” he said, referring to all the Enbridge Lines- including Line 3 , which the company proposes to abandon within the reservation because of structural problems. “Our tribe bought 300,000 pounds of green rice last year, am I supposed to tell people that is not going to happen because of spill… We have regulatory authority inside the borders of our reservation, and we have not seen a supplementary EIS on that Alberta Clipper line expansion, nor a plan for the Line Three proposal for abandonment… We would like it to be removed…” Levi explained to Coady.

Fond Du Lac DNR Thomas Howes, explained to Coady, “ My job is to take care of the wild rice. Some 50% of our reservation is wetlands”. Howes explained that he was concerned and that “ I can see your pipes sticking out of the water when it crosses our reservation..”. Those maintenance issues continue to plague Enbridge, whose new year was greeted by an oil tank explosion in front of their office in the Bakken, and whose last year spill in Manitoba, leaked 46,000 gallons of oil before it was stopped. A spill in northern Alberta two years ago was brought on by rains and flooding. According to a Huffington Post article, “ Enbridge said … that unusually heavy rains may have resulted in a ground movement that affected Line 37, a 17-kilometre-long, 12-inch diameter pipe linking the Long Lake oilsands upgrader with the Athabasca system. The company detected the Line 37 spill early Saturday and initially estimated that between 500 and 750 barrels of oil had spilled…(approximately 30,000 gallons of oil)…Ironically, the flooding also caused Enbridge to close down their Calgary head office, until safe for employees to return. In late 2014, Enbridge’s Saskatchewan spill of 56,700 gallons from line four, which also crosses the Leech Lake and Fond du Lac reservations. “There are no impacts to the public, wildlife or waterways,” Enbridge said in a statement. “Nearby residents and businesses may detect a faint odor.”

Maintenance concerns were central in the meeting, as well as the company’s lack of compliance with tribal requests. Tribes had requested maintenance information, and not received it. Nor had the company provided tribal governments with up to date maps of route proposals or a full disclosure of future pipelines proposed for the same new “ Sandpiper corridor. This is especially of concern since Line 3 is a replacement route, and Lines 4 and 2 are similarly five decades old, and likely to have “structural problems”.

The new pipeline proposal met with opposition, no band sent an official representative, and with tribal hearings coming up June 4 and 5, it was hoped that Enbridge might find a broader “listening session” of value to the company. That opposition would be what Linda Coady, the “Indian Listener” heard. However, if we are to learn any lessons from the experience of Native people in British Columbia, Enbridge has a difficult time in actually hearing and seems to return year after year, hoping for approval of the cluster fucked Gateway Pipeline, opposed by l30 tribes and cutting through similarly ecological pristine areas in the north.

“The Representatives of Enbridge have asked here for eight years,” said Adam Gagnon , from the Gitxan First Nation in British Columbia explained . “I’ve sat with them in meetings. We’ve told them no. It’s not respectful to keep asking. What part of no do they not understand? They will try to sell dreams to people who are poor, that this wealth will make their lives better. Give poor people money and it doesn’t make their life better. It makes it worse. We have seen that time and time again…”

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