Despite the efforts of protestors from across the country, the Line 3 oil pipeline extension is slated to be completed by October 1 (Reuters). When completed, the pipeline would run from Canada’s tar sands to the western tip of Lake Superior (MPR), carrying 760,000 gallons of oil a day. The planned expansion goes through Indigenous lands, threatens to abet global warming through the transport of tar sands oil, and would put 200 bodies at risk of pollution from oil spills (AP News, The Hill). This isn’t an abstract risk: the existing parts of Line 3 leaked 1.5 million gallons of crude oil into the Prairie River in 1991. It remains the largest oil spill in the United States to date (Duluth News Tribute).
There are multiple fronts in the fight against Line 3. Lawsuits have held parts of the development up in court. Petitioners imploring President Biden to halt the project include celebrities like Jane Fonda and Leonardo DiCaprio (MPR). As these efforts proceed, hundreds of activists following the leadership of the Indigenous peoples who would be most affected by Line 3 are taking a more direct route.
At the invitation and under the leadership of Anishinaabe communities, including the Red Lake Nation, White Earth Band of Ojibwe, and Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, activists are taking direct action to stop Line 3 (Cultural Survival). Direct action is often used as a synonym for confrontational protest, but direct action and protest actually represent different strategies for social change. Whereas protest makes appeals to authority, direct action is the “defiant insistence on acting as if one is already free” (YouTube). The struggle against Line 3 echoes the words of Dr. King, who wrote, “We had no alternative except to prepare for direct action, whereby we would present our very bodies as a means of laying our case before the conscience of the local and the national community” (Letter From Jail).
In this case, the desired outcome was the cancellation of Line 3. Rather than solely petitioning politicians to cancel the pipeline — which it has so far refused to do — direct action entails physically stopping the construction of illegal, environmentally catastrophic infrastructure. Anti-pipeline activists have locked themselves to construction equipment (AP News), barricaded roads, and attached themselves to the inside of pipe components, risking police brutality and incarceration to defend Indigenous treaty rights and environmental justice (Cultural Survival). Police have disrupted prayer gatherings, stalked activists, and held detainees in “dog kennel cages in a police garage” (Stop Line 3). Almost a thousand people have been arrested, some facing felony charges (MPR).
One reason for this aggressive policing may be because Line 3’s manufacturer, Enbridge, is directly paying law enforcement. The company has reimbursed police for the tear gas, batons, and flash-bang grenades used to brutalize pipeline opponents (The Intercept). So far, Enbridge has paid roughly a million dollars to law enforcement, who are accused of specifically targetting Indigenous women for political repression (Stop Line 3).
“As Indigenous people, we’re taught to look seven generations ahead regarding all we do. But as it is now, I can’t even promise my 14-month-old son that he will be able to gather wild rice if these pipelines leak,” said Taysha Martineau, a Fond du Lac tribal member and protest organizer. “I made a promise to my children that I would stop Line 3 and that’s what I’m doing” (MPR).
Allowing Line 3 to begin operation would significantly worsen climate change, a process that especially threatens poor communities and communities of color. It would set a further precedent for the erasure of Indigenous sovereignty and treaty rights. It would tell fossil fuel companies that there’s more money to made from the extractive industries that are heating the planet. It would tell our political elites that there are no consequences for failing to oppose fossil fuel megaprojects after campaigning on a transition to “100% clean energy” (Joe Biden).
Years of lawsuits and protests against Line 3 have so far not been enough to stop it. In fact, pipeline manufacturers are now so tightly connected to government that they effectively rent out local police to serve as their private security. This is after centuries of broken promises and brutal violence against Indigenous people by white settlers and the settler-colonial government (Global Social Theory). Given this context, it’s unsurprising that Indigenous activists are calling for direct action against the pipeline. We should make sure that the communities and individuals courageous enough to stand up to this project are supported and resourced, especially given that almost a thousand are facing criminal charges. It’s of the utmost importance that we defend those who have been resisting Line 3.
The Line 3 extension will carry tar sands oil next to hundreds of bodies of water and across Indigenous lands.
Almost 1,000 have taken direct action to prevent the completion of the pipeline.
Direct action involves addressing community needs without appealing to authority.