At first glance, the Enbridge 3 pipeline seems like a non-threatening project. Rather than building a new pipeline, the project will replace an aging, 1960s vintage pipeline with a modern pipeline of the same size. Taking the old pipeline out of service will decrease the risk of leaks and allow Enbridge, the company building the new pipeline, to take advantage of decades of technological advancement in terms of construction, materials, and monitoring technology. As the pre-construction public comments period comes to an end, controversy about the pipeline is growing, in large part due to the influence of Winona LaDuke, a well-known environmental activist with ties to the area.

To proceed with pipeline construction in 2018, Enbridge must first receive a permit from the state of Minnesota. A recent ruling by the Minnesota Supreme Court also mandated that the state complete an environmental impact statement on the project. Thus far, no formal protests have begun, but already activists are hinting at them.

“If that permit is issued, you can be sure you will have Standing Rock in Minnesota,” LaDuke said ominously in an interview with Minnesota Public Radio in early July.

Enbridge 3, a $7.5 billion project to fully replace more than 1,000 miles of pipeline between Hardisty, Alberta and Superior, Wisconsin, is the largest project in the company’s history. The project will replace an existing crude oil pipeline that was first installed in the 1960s. The pipeline carries Canadian crude to terminals near Clearbrook, Minnesota and Superior, Wisconsin.

She and other native american environmentalists have been resisting attempts to build pipelines in the area for more than 8 years. Their resistance shows the connections in Minnesota between native environmentalism and elements of the American Indian Movement, a native rights group from the 1970s with a history of violent encounters with law enforcement.

In 2009, LaDuke worked with activist Clyde Bellecourt to try to stop construction of two different Enbridge pipelines in the area. Bellecourt is one of the founding members of the AIM. Along with his brother, Vernon Bellecourt, and several other men, Clyde founded the organization in Minneapolis in the late 1960s.

At the time, the city had a larger native population than any other. AIM was founded in large part to address issues of police harassment and systemic racism, says David Wilkins, a professor of American Indian studies at the University of Minnesota. Its focus soon broadened to include living conditions on reservations, which were some of the poorest counties in the country.

From Minneapolis, the AIM spread around the country, launching regional chapters in many different states. In addition to political goals, the movement also sparked a return to native religion and new interest in tribal culture. By the 1970s, elements of the movement became increasingly violent. In 1973, members of the Oglala Lakota tribe and the AIM occupied several villages in the small town of Wounded Knee, trying to spark a revival of treaty negotiations. It sparked a 71-day siege between the activists, the FBI, U.S. Marshalls, and National Guard troops. Two years later, a shootout occurred, killing two FBI agents and one Native American man.

After the shooting, many AIM leaders went into hiding and the movement lost much of its earlier political clout, Wilkins explains. Although AIM continues to exist, it lacks the influence it once had.

LaDuke has a long history in both environmental activism and the native rights movement. At the time of the AIM’s founding, she was a student at Harvard. Sympathetic to the movement’s goals, she became involved in the native rights movement during her time at school. Concerned about sexism in the pre-existing native rights movement, she helped to found the Indigenous Women’s Network in 1985.

Working with the IWN and other organizations, LaDuke has continued to advocate for native rights and environmental causes for decades. Enbridge 3 is just the latest protest. As part of her resistance to the Enbridge line, she has traveled the length of the pipeline route, hosting events both in Minnesota, and in Wisconsin, where the pipeline will end.

So far, protests of Enbridge 3 have been limited as environmentalists await the state’s decision on a permit. Still, they are making their presence known. On Monday, dancers in traditional jingle dresses protested outside Enbridge’s offices in Duluth, Minnesota.

Despite LaDuke’s statements, Enbridge is still confident that the project will be approved.

John Swanson, vice president for major projects at Enbridge, explains in a piece for the Star Tribune that the company has held 22 public meetings to learn about resident concerns. Minor route changes between the Enbridge 3 pipeline and the line it will replace reflect congestion along the original route.

“This is not a new pipeline,” Swanson stressed. “We are replacing the 1960s-era Line 3 with a modern pipeline. This is not a new corridor: from North Dakota to Clearbrook, Minn., we co-locate with 98 percent of our existing right of way. From Clearbrook to Superior, Wis., we follow existing pipelines, transmission lines and railroad lines for approximately 75 percent of the route.”

In addition, the company will continue to monitor the deactivated pipeline, which will remain in place so as to avoid unnecessary soil damage.

Despite LaDuke’s threat of protest, on the whole, Enbridge 3 has been well supported in the state. Unions hoping for a boost in construction jobs have come out in support of it and other groups highlight the safety benefits of upgrading the aging pipeline.

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