Winona LaDuke testifies on her own behalf

April 5, 2022

On April 4, 2022, Winona LaDuke took the stand at an evidentiary hearing to testify on behalf of herself. She has been charged with multiple gross misdemeanors in Minnesota as related to the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline.

LaDuke was arrested on July 19, 2021 on the Shell River, along with six other water protectors, all charged with refusing to leave upon demand, resisting arrest, and trespassing on a public utility. They were held in jail for several days, and are now facing a year in jail and thousands of dollars in fines for praying on public land in 1855 Treaty Territory.

Mary Klein, Winona LaDuke, Barbara With, Trish Weber, Cheryl Barnds, and Kelly Maracle, July 19, 2021, Shell River. Also arrested, Flo Razowsky. Photo: Citizen X

Also testifying on her behalf was Alfred E. Fox, Chief Conservation Officer of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe, and Dale Greene, Jr., member of the 1955 Treaty Authority Board.

The arresting officer did not appear to testify against her.

Enbridge, a foreign multi-national Canadian corporation, built the pipeline through 1855 Treaty territory and had several major aquifer breaches and has damaged the ground water. 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).

Officer Fox outlined that on May 13, 2010, the 1855 Treaty Authority and The White Earth Band adopted an off-reservation conversation code. In April 2018,  the tribe adopted the rights of manoomin (wild rice), recognizing the rights of the rice and tribal members’ right to be wherever the rice grows. “Protection of the rice is both sacred and cultural,” said Fox, and explained that manoomin is used not just as food, but in ceremony, trading and is considered a family member.

Fox also affirmed that in 2018, LaDuke was appointed the guardian ad litem for the Shell River.

Dale Greene, Jr. stated that the conversation code for off-reservation lands was voted on by the tribe because manoomin is part of the Creation Story. “As spiritual beings, helpers came along—water, flora, fauna, and manoomin—that promised to give us sustenance. In exchange, we understood that whatever befalls them, befalls us, and it became our moral duty to protect them.”

Greene outlined that the American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978 (AIRFA) protects the rights of Native Americans to exercise their traditional religions by ensuring access to sites, use and possession of sacred objects, and the freedom to worship through ceremonial and traditional rites. It’s been a relatively short period of time since this was enacted. Before that, indigenous peoples’ practices were outlawed and devalued, forcing them to go underground. State codes, adopted after the Treaties were signed, did not understand that the Native Americans did not give up their rights to hunt, fish, gather and to travel through and occupy their treaty territories.

Because of the complex nature of determining who is a member of a tribe, often today’s tribal members have inherited those rights from lineage that comes from ancestors who were relocated. “Our identify did not start when Minnesota became a State,” said Greene. “Our clans have many people with treaty beneficiary rights to more than one treaty territory.”

At the time the treaties were signed, Greene said that land ownership was a foreign concept. Those signing the treaties assumed, even though they sold the land, they reserved the rights to hunt, fish, gather and travel to and through the treaty territory.

LaDuke testified that she lives on Shell Lake, which is the headwaters of the Shell River. In 2018, she was appointed guardian ad litem for the Shell River by the White Earth Band of Ojibwe. In May 2021, she and her family moved to the Shell City Campground to protect the river from Enbridge Line 3, which was slated to cross the Shell River five times. There she opened a cultural treaty camp, and throughout the course of the summer over 3,000 people visited the camp.

Dakota Sun Dance singer Hoka Wicasa spent the summer teaching songs and ceremonies to Ojibwe youth at the Shell City Horse Camp. Photo: Rebecca Kemble

“I watched the river drop eight inches in one day during the drought. I knew the river, the wild rice and the mussels were in peril.” LaDuke contacted the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) several time, with no response.

During her stay, she and the Minnesota DNR had a good working relationship. LaDuke contends it is her right to be praying on public lands in treaty territory.

Both sides will submit briefs and the court will reconvene in six weeks.

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