Winona LaDuke testifies on behalf of water protectors: “We have an inherent right to be on the very land on which we belong.”

February 11, 2022

By Barbara With

Winona LaDuke took the stand at an evidentiary hearing today to testify on behalf of water protectors being charged with multiple gross misdemeanors in Minnesota as related to the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline.

Enbridge, a foreign multi-national Canadian corporation, built the pipeline through 1855 Treaty territory and had several major aquifer breaches, and via the Northern Lights Task Force, invested over $5 million in local law enforcement to arrest and detain peaceful water protectors. However, a recent article in The Intercept revealed Enbridge conducted a corporate counterinsurgency campaign in Minnesota, specifically targeting LaDuke and her organization Honor The Earth (HTE).

Water protectors outside Aitkin County Courthouse braved the snow and cold to support those with hearings inside. Photo: Honor The Earth

Appearing in Aitkin County Court were defendants Marian Moore, Minnesota Interfaith Power and Light Director Julia Nerbonne, Holden Buff Grace III and Ashley Compton.

Moore was arrested on December 14, 2020 while praying at the Mississippi River and spent the night in jail. “Why are those of us who are seeking to call attention to the weakness of the legal system and the regulatory system, why are we the ones going to court instead of Enbridge? Enbridge who has violated its permits right and left?”

Nerbonne, Grace and Compton were arrested on December 7, 2020 while preparing for a ceremony with LaDuke at a prayer lodge on ceded lands guaranteed for use by Ojibwe people for hunting, fishing and gathering, travel and prayer. The area had been under a stop-work order issued by the US Army Corps of Engineers, as well as a cease-and-desist order issued by the 1855 Treaty Authority stating Enbridge pipeline construction near the prayer lodge violated the American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978.

Video: Honor the Earth

Testifying for the state was retired DNR law enforcement officer Tom Provost. While employed with the DNR, he said he was part of the “State Asset Preparedness Program,” (SAPP) consisting of representatives from the DNR, Homeland Security, Minnesota State Patrol and the National Guard (the same ones who populate the Northern Lights Task Force). Their job was to work with vendors to protect Enbridge and their pipeline by creating what Provost called “restrictive parameters” to prepare the pipeline corridor. These work buffers restricted access to the public.

According to The Intercept article, Enbridge also bought up land around LaDuke and other HTE associates and surveilled their homes with drones. Sarah LittleRedFeather, who does HTE’s media and communications, confirmed that during the day, Enbridge drones would surveil Akiing, LaDuke’s solar manufacturing site in Ponsford, Minnesota. “They would mostly do it at night but would circle with their big drones in the day, circling Akiing. It was hard to capture and take video, but I have video of the night time ones. They followed me from Akiing to my new home.”

Provost did not recognize any of the defendants. He said that they gave LaDuke and anishinaabe kwe Tania Aubid latitude to use the prayer lodge, which LaDuke and Aubid had constructed in October 2020, before Provost and SAPP established the parameters for that part of the pipeline. Provost also could not remember if they had been asked to leave before issuing the citations.

White Earth Historic Preservation officer Jamie Arsenault took the stand and testified that she was not contacted by the DNR, Enbridge, or the Army Corps of Engineers to perform the mandated federal and state historical preservation requirements for the pipeline. Arsenault also serves as Vice Chair of the Smithsonian Repatriation Review Committee.

Arsenault testified that on December 6, 2020, she contacted Aitkin County Sheriff Dan Guida to issue a stop-work order. She was told that if she went to the site without a State escort, she would be arrested. He also told her that the site had already been assessed by a cultural monitor, although when she reached out to the Army Corps, Enbridge, Guida, and Provost, no one knew who had done the assessment, and there was no report. In lieu of that, she wrote her own report.

Arsenault’s report concludes that LaDuke and Aubid had constructed a prayer lodge, and while the lodge itself was newer, the practice of building prayer lodges and praying is an historic part of Anishinaabe religious practice.

When she advised State authorities of her findings, Guida told her it was only a “stalling tactic” on the part of LaDuke. No one else responded.

Under the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, LaDuke and Aubid have the right to construct the prayer lodge on 1855 Treaty territory and invite others to come pray, and that it is, in fact, not uncommon for non-natives to be invited to come to pray.

LaDuke then took the stand, telling the court that she is a member of the Midewiwin Lodge, and has been instructed to follow the healing path of the lodge. Constructing lodges on the Mississippi has been part of the lodge’s tradition. She built this lodge specifically for praying for the water and invited fellow water protecters of different religions to come and prayer together, including Nerbonne, Grace and Compton in December 2020.

“The creator gave me this right and responsibility,” said LaDuke. “We have an inherent right to be on the very land on which we belong. Along with that right comes the right to invite others to join in prayer.”

LaDuke contends the lodge did not stop the pipeline construction and that she was traumatize in the lodge when the horizontal directional drilling took place under it and the Mississippi.

The date for the next hearing has not been set, but will be sometime this summer.

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